In the shortened 2021 NHL regular season, the only player to reach 40 goals was Toronto's Auston Matthews, who won his first Rocket Richard Trophy with 41 goals in 52 games – missing four due to a wrist injury. Matthews, certainly the best American player active in the NHL these days, had surgery on that wrist this summer and will make his season debut tonight as the Leafs are heavy favorites at Caesars Sportsbook against the visiting New York Rangers.
Toronto has gone 2-1 without its top-line center but is averaging only 2.33 goals per game after ranking sixth in the league last year at 3.32 per game. Matthews has five goals and seven assists in 12 career games vs. the Rangers. He is -130 to be an anytime goal scorer tonight and +650 to be the first one overall. Matthews has an Over/Under total of 1.5 points, with the Under a -195 favorite.
Matthews' return will move John Tavares back to the second line in between William Nylander and Michael Bunting, The Leafs and Rangers didn't play last year. In fact, this will be the first American team that Toronto will host since losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Aug. 8, 2020. That defeat eliminated the Leafs from the qualifying round of that year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
"It's going to be great again to hear two (national) anthems," said Toronto's Mitchell Marner.
New York is 1-2 in the new season, coming off a 3-1 win in Montreal on Saturday to give Gerard Gallant his first victory as the Blueshirts' coach. However, winger Kaapo Kaako, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, was hurt in the game and has landed on injured reserve. The 20-year-old had yet to score this season.
This writer is backing Toronto even at a high price. The Rangers dating to last season are 1-5 in their past six as road dogs. The Leafs are 7-3 in their past 10 as home favorites.
Looking for the best picks against the spread, sharp action on the total and props you can take to the window? Join Jonathan Coachman on the Early Edge as he speaks with SportsLine's top handicappers to preview every day's biggest games. We promise to keep it short, sweet and to put some green in your pocket. Early Edge is under 10 minutes and in your feed every single day by 11 AM ET. Download right here or wherever you get your podcasts.