Pre-Game: Stars at Leafs (Update: Toskala Starting)

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    The Maple Leafs, now bearers of a winning record at 14-13-6, are looking to continue their offensive onslaught against the league’s fifth worst defense as they return home to host the underachieving Dallas Stars.

    The Maple Leafs are riding the momentum of two dominating all-around performances, collectively outscoring the Penguins and Thrashers 13-5. The Leafs have lit the lamp on 27 occasions throughout a fruitful six game stretch (5-1). With a win tonight, the Leafs would garner 12 out of a possible 14 points from their pre-holiday seven-game stint.

    The Dallas Stars are fresh off a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators in a battle between the league’s biggest damp squibs for lack of a less British term. The Stars are currently residing in the basement of the Pacific Division but could pass the Los Angeles Kings with two points tonight. The Stars’ 31 points are only good enough for 14th in the West, but with a win the Stars could leapfrog the Kings and Blue Jackets and land in a tie for 10th in the congested Conference. Two points could also leave the Stars just one point out of a playoff spot.

    The Stars’ 6-3-1 record in their last ten games may be signaling a turn around. The Stars must continue to improve in all areas as they sit 18th in goals for, 26th in GA, 28th in powerplay success and 27th in penalty killing. Their overtime/shootout record is 3-5, so they must improve on their ability to collect sloppy seconds.

    The Leafs’ offensive success as of late has been spearheaded by their top forward line and d-paring. Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky have five points in their last two outings while Nik Antropov has nine points in his last four. On the blue-line, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina have 11 points between them in their last 3 games. The Leafs’ third line in Jason Blake, Dominic Moore and Jeremy Williams has provided an effective supplementary presence. Williams has netted five in his first six appearances of the season, for those living under a rock. The Stars have conceded 25 goals in their last five games and seem ripe for the picking for a clicking Leafs offense.

    Ron Wilson has left it up in the air as to whether Justin Pogge will feature again tonight. The Leafs made the night fairly easy on Pogge for the first two periods last night in Atlanta before Pogge put his stamp on the game with a couple of sensational saves in the third. I’ll update later when there’s official word as to who is in net. As I said in last night’s post-game, one would think Wilson and Burke will want to see how Pogge handles the next step, performing in the spotlight of the ACC. *Update: TSN is reporting that Vesa Toskala will return to the Leafs’ goal tonight.

    Marty Turco will mind the posts for the Stars. Turco has stifled the Leafs in his four starts against the Blue and White, winning three of those four outings and posting a 1.25 GAA and a .941 save percentage in the process. Loui Eriksson has been the Stars’ hot hand as of late, scoring six in his last three.

    On an immaterial note, the Leafs are currently three points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand on the 8th placed Buffalo Sabres.