After a good first game back against the Nashville Predators, the Toronto Maple Leafs face a stiffer challenge tonight against the stingy 28-17-4 Dallas Stars (7:30 p.m. ET, SNO).
While the Predators are at the bottom end of the competitive Central Division, the Stars are fairly comfortably in a top-three position, six points up on the fourth-place Winnipeg Jets, who have played two more games. Coming off of a 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, per moneypuck.com, they’re currently sporting an 85.5% chance at the playoffs.
On the season, the Stars have been an extremely low-event team at even strength by the goal counts — they’re 30th in the NHL in GF/60 and 1st in GA/60. Formerly a team that could run-and-gun with the best of them under Lindy Ruff, the Stars bought into the defensive preachings of the now-departed Jim Montgomery (now Rick Bowness) and have been at or near the top of the league in preventing goals against over the last couple of seasons. They don’t have a single player even approaching point-per-game status — not Tyler Seguin (37 points in 47 games), not Jamie Benn (28 points in 25 games), not Alex Radulov (28 points in 46 games). Past 40-goal scorers like Seguin, Benn, and Joe Pavelski are on pace for between 15-23 goals this season at the 50-game mark.
In shot share, the Stars 15th in CF/60 and a below-average 22nd in CA/60. Their output defensively is much better accounting for shot location, though — they’re 6th in xGA/60 — so, while they aren’t dominating by any means territorially, they defend the critical areas of the ice very well. It is going to be a good test of the Leafs‘ ability to get pucks and bodies into the interior of the offensive zone for scoring chances and second and third opportunities — something they did quite well against the Nashville Predators on Monday but should be a tougher task tonight.
The keys to victory will be getting to those areas of the ice consistently, staying patient offensively against a Stars team that is comfortable defending and capitalizing on mistakes, and making life difficult on starter Ben Bishop. Bishop went 27-15-2 in 45 starts with a .934 save percentage last season (good enough for Vezina nomination) and has gone 17-10-3 so far this year with a .924 save percentage (second in the NHL among all goalies in GSAx).
Game Day Quotes
Roman Polak on whether it’ll be friendly on the ice against his former teammates:
I’m going to hit everyone.
Sheldon Keefe on producing offense against a stingy Dallas team:
We’re going to need to have a presence around the net, for sure. This team does a really good job of making it tough to get there — they’re doing as good or better of a job than anyone in the league in terms of not giving up very much. It’s going to be a challenging game for us in that sense today, so we’re going to have to have a presence there and get the puck there. Perhaps a little bit different than we have in previous games but, at the same time, it’ll be a challenge for us to stay disciplined and stay with it all the way through the game.
Rasmus Sandin on looking off Jason Spezza at practice:
After we went through a video and he was all ready for a one-timer and I took the shot — he was telling me to pass him the puck.
Sandin on his phone going off after his first NHL goal against Nashville:
It was going crazy ,to be honest. I posted a picture the other day but, other than that, I’m trying to stay off.
I got a couple [texts] from my teachers from when I was like 8 or 9.
Jason Spezza on why he chose to take the morning skate this morning:
I try not to be too regimented in how I do it, but I prefer to skate more than not. As the season goes on, proabably less and less, but coming off a break, it’s nice to skate a little bit.
Spezza on Sandin not passing him the puck in practice:
Yeah, I was giving him a hard time. I talked yesterday about how good his hockey sense was. On the clip, I’m waiving for the puck and he looks me off… can’t be that good.
Spezza on how Sandin is fitting in with the big cub:
He has a really good relashionship with the guys he’s played with [on the Marlies]. We have a lot of guys who have come up with him that way. He’s just a really confident kid but kind of quiet and respectful. He likes to have a good time and laugh a little bit. He’s a very mature kid, so he’s fit in well with our group.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #94 Tyson Barrie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Dmytro Timashov, Tyler Gaudet
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly
Dallas Stars Projected Lines
#14 Jamie Benn – #91 Tyler Seguin – #47 Alexander Radulov
#43 Denis Gurianov – #18 Jason Dickinson – #16 Joe Pavelski
#11 Andrew Cogliano – #12 Radek Faksa – #15 Blake Comeau
#37 Justin Dowling – #13 Mattias Janmark – #10 Corey Perry
#2 Jamie Oleksiak – #4 Miro Heiskanen
#23 Esa Lindell – #45 Roman Polak
#5 Andrej Sekera – #3 John Klingberg
#30 Ben Bishop (starter)
#35 Anton Khudobin
Injured: Roope Hintz