Coming off an off game where the team was disorganized and thoroughly outworked against Calgary, the Toronto Maple Leafs will take on the Dallas Stars for the second and final time this season tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m., TSN4).
The last time these two teams met, the Leafs put in one of their more complete performances of the year. After the three opening games of the season were carried by the Matthews and Tavares lines, the Leafs‘ depth played a bigger role and the team played a quality road game with plenty of offensive zone time on the back of a four-line effort.
The matchup situation will be much different this time around due to key injuries on both sides. It looks like Alex Radulov will miss more time after sitting out four games before returning and reinjuring himself on Tuesday. Head coach Jim Montgomery has decided to split up Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in his absence in an attempt to achieve more balance throughout his lineup.
Balance up front has been an issue for the Leafs as well in light of the injury to Auston Matthews plus the ongoing absence of William Nylander. There is no solution imminently forthcoming barring a sudden resolution to the Nylander contract dispute, so the Leafs will need slow starters Andreas Johnsson and Connor Brown to show something offensively at some point on line three.
Things haven’t changed much from the first meeting for the Dallas on the blueline, where John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell pose threats off the backend. Their ability to jump up and bring numbers into the rush means the Leafs will need to be sharp in their sort outs with good support from the forwards defensively — one issue Mike Babcock mentioned in the Calgary loss was the other team’s fourth and fifth guys beating the Leafs’ up the ice.
Another storyline on the Dallas defense is the return of Roman Polak and Connor Carrick to Toronto as members of the Stars organization. We’ll have to wait to see the line rushes, but it looks like Polak is in on the right side while Carrick will sit — befitting the return to Toronto in that sense. Jokes aside, Carrick has played in excess of 16 minutes a night in his nine appearances this season, while Polak has been limited to 13 minutes and change; Carrick took a shot to the foot last game that has hindered his ability to put on his skate.
On the Leafs’ blue line, in addition to celebrating Ron Hainey‘s 1,000th game, Travis Dermott will return from illness and Justin Holl will make his season debut on the right side of the pairing while looking to keep his goal-a-game pace alive in the third game of his NHL career. Of course, that’s not the actual expectation and the Leafs would be happy with a steady game from Holl that includes clean outlets while using his mobility to support the rush and cycle offensively. It’ll be interesting to get a look at this pairing — arguably we should’ve seen it sooner — as it has the ability to get the team exiting the zone quickly and playing on offense with efficient puck movement up to the forwards (provided the support is there).
As a team, the Leafs will be looking to manufacture a response after what was described by coach Babcock as one of their worst efforts of the season versus Calgary (alongside the Blues game) and the worst from the standpoint of giving up quality chances and zone time against.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the challenge presented by the Dallas Stars:
They’ve got good players. Real good on both specialty teams and real good in the faceoff circle. Do we want to have the puck? Let’s have a plan in the faceoff circle, be disciplined, and stay out of the box.
I think they’re playing well. Our game in there, we played them real fast and got a jump on them. I saw them play the other night and I thought Montreal was good early but they took over the game. They’re a good team.
When you look at these teams every night in the league — and maybe you don’t see it that way — you’re going, “Oh, is that other team ever good.” That’s what you say to yourself every night. It’s not like it was ten years ago when you knew you had a Wednesday night game you were just going to win. It isn’t like that. You’ve got to be prepared and ready to play.
Babcock on getting Justin Holl and Travis Dermott into the lineup:
Right at training camp, I told Hollsy that we didn’t have an opportunity for him right away because we were looking at the other people. Went right to him and let him know. He had spent — I don’t know — about 100 years in the minors already. Real good person. We said we’d get to the opportunity when he gets a chance, and now he gets his opportunity.
He’s known all along. It’s not like we hid it from him at all. We were right up front and let him know what is going on. Now here’s an opportunity. We are giving Ozzy a night off and we are going to give him a night off every once in a while here just because the season is so much longer than it was where he has been.
We think it’s time to get Dermy back in. Dermy was sick but also needed to do some work. He’s done his work. He’s a guy who can move the puck. He can help us.
Babcock on defending and breaking out better in five-man units:
It’s interesting. We spent a lot of time on last game just looking at it. They did to us what we normally do to other teams. They were above us and they just worked real hard and we didn’t execute. They did and they were better.
In the end, that’s the worst this year that we have been outplayed by any team by a wide margin just because we gave up so many quality opportunities. Their fourth and fifth guy beat our fourth and fifth guy all night long. We weren’t very good, kind of like the St. Louis game. I’m not taking anything away from Calgary or St. Louis, but in the end, we didn’t do our part to make it a competitive enough game.
It was a 2-1 game and it was tight and all of that, but in the end, the team that should’ve won won.
Justin Holl on making his season debut on a pairing with Travis Dermott:
I think we have good chemistry together and we communicate well on the ice. Every time we’ve played together, we’ve done a good job. It’s real exciting for me and I can’t wait to get out there with him.
Stars head coach Jim Montgomery on Roman Polak:
He is maybe our biggest pleasant surprise just because of his grit, his toughness, his emotion he brings to us, and how he defends physically. He has been really important to us. His PK prowess has been awesome.
Polak on playing for Mike Babcock:
You just need to be mentally strong, especially with Babs. He doesn’t like anybody who’s mentally weak.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#21 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#63 Tyler Ennis – #26 Par Lindholm – #28 Connor Brown
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #32 Josh Leivo
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Igor Ozhiganov, Martin Marincin, William Nylander (unsigned RFA)
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)
Dallas Stars Projected Lines
#17 Devin Shore – #91 Tyler Seguin – #13 Mattias Janmark
#14 Jamie Benn – #90 Jason Spezza – #43 Valeri Nichushkin
#18 Tyler Pitlick – #12 Radek Faksa –#15 Blake Comeau
#46 Gamel Smith – #16 Jason Dickinson – #25 Brett Ritchie
#23 Esa Lindell – #3 John Klingberg
#33 Marc Methot – #4 Miro Heiskanen
#6 Julius Honka – #45 Roman Polak
#35 Anton Khudobin
#30 Ben Bishop
Injured: Martin Hanzal, Alexander Radulov, Stephen Johns, Connor Carrick