A pair of Texas-sized point streaks are on the line tonight as Mitch Marner (19 games) and Jason Robertson (18 games) do battle in Dallas (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario).
In addition to the intrigue around those points streaks, we’ll see two Leafs debuts — and one NHL debut — for Conor Timmins and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev on the bottom pairing and fourth-line right wing, respectively.
With TJ Brodie set to return possibly as soon as this Thursday against Los Angeles, Sheldon Keefe has stated that now is the time to get the Leafs‘ new right-handed addition in Conor Timmins some game action. The 22-year-old SDA has been rewarded with an NHL look on the back of improved production (18 points in 20 games this season) and 200-foot play with the Marlies in wake of the Calle Järnkork injury.
This is a meeting between two teams in strong form: The Leafs (15-5-6) haven’t lost a game in regulation in their last 11 games, while the Stars (14-6-5) have just one regulation loss in their last 10. Both teams are in the top 10 in goals against per game this season. Offensively, the Stars rank second in the NHL in goals to the Leafs‘ 19th, but over the last five games, the Leafs‘ offense is starting to cook at 3.6 goals/game. Dallas is inside the top five on both sides of special teams.
In the first meeting between the two teams back in October, the Leafs came back to win in overtime 3-2 on the strength of two Nick Robertson goals, including the OT winner. That game included both the Leafs’ only win in overtime in seven attempts this season and also Robertson’s only two goals of the season through 13 appearances. Without a point in six consecutive games, Nick will be hoping the sibling rivalry with Jason sparks his offensive game again as he skates on a line with Mitch Marner, who is looking to extend his points streak to 20 games.
Outside of the Timmins-for-Hollowell and SDA-for-Simmonds swaps on the bottom pairing and fourth line, the Leafs are keeping their top-nine forwards and their top-four defensemen the same. We’ve seen Keefe move Mitch Marner back next to Auston Matthews when the Leafs have taken on big-matchup lines in the past — e..g the Thompson line vs. Buffalo — and the Stars certainly present one in Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski. Keep an eye out for any adjustments within the matchup game depending on how the game shapes up early, although the Leafs don’t have the same control over the matchups on the road, and the Stars present a fairly balanced top nine overall compared to a Buffalo.
Matt Murray will start his second consecutive for the Leafs coming off of the OT loss in Tampa, with Ilya Samsonov expected to start on Thursday at home vs. LA.
Game Day Quotes
Stars head coach Pete DeBoer on the Leafs:
What can you say? They haven’t lost in regulation in 10? Their big guys are scoring. That is always what drives the bus when teams go on runs: their best players being their best players, whether it is their goalie, their leading scorers, or their best defensemen. I think they are getting all of those things.
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Stars:
They’re just a really good team in a lot of areas — five-on-five, power play, penalty kill, goaltending. Obviously, they have the top scorer in the league and a top line in the league. Good team in all facets, and deep as well. Good mix of size and speed, youth and experience. They have a little bit of everything there.
Keefe on Jason Robertson’s 18-game points streak (21 goals):
At times, it can become a bit comical because it is a real hard league to score in, but then it seems for players like that on runs like that, it seems like it is not a very hard league to score in.
It brings a lot to their team. It always feels like they’re in every game. They were down big the other afternoon, and it doesn’t faze them. They have a lot of confidence in themselves as a team, as they should.
They have been playing a lot of really good hockey. They’re doing it in all facets. They’re not relying on one player. They’re executing in all areas of the game really well. It does bring a lot to a team when you have a guy like that, but all of that is just part of the story with this team.
DeBoer on Robertosn’ 18-game points streak:
He has done it without cheating. He is not playing 23-24 minutes a night. He is not floating around. He is +16 or +18. He is probably playing the lowest time on ice, maybe, of his career here or maybe since he was a young guy. He is taking a minute on the power play and getting off. He is not spending 1:30-2:00 out there doing it.
He has done it without an ounce of cheating in his game, which I think has been the most impressive thing for me.
DeBoer on whether the lack of cheating applies to Mitch Marner’s 19-game streak as well:
I don’t think cheating and Marner go in the same sentence. He is as honest of a player as there is. He blocks shots. He kills penalties. He is defensively really good. I haven’t watched a lot, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the same story.
Keefe on the Stars’ top line of Robertson – Hintz – Pavelski:
The line has a great balance of so many different things, and you can see it all come together. Hintz is among the fastest skaters in the NHL. Pavelski and Robertson are not as fleet of foot on the wings, but they are incredibly smart players who are in the right spots, are around the net, and score so many different ways.
Pavelski is as good as anybody as there is at tipping pucks and finding rebounds and such. Robertson can score from anywhere on the rink, and at the same time, he knows where to be at the right times. If you take those guys away, all of a sudden, Hintz can come flying out of nowhere.
The line has a lot of great elements and tremendous chemistry.
Nick Robertson on his brother Jason’s 18-game points streak:
It is what he does. I have seen it at every level, whether it was when he was younger, in junior, or now. I am not really shocked by it. I know he can produce. The points streak is amazing at this level.
Robertson on his mom’s choice of jersey for tonight:
She always wears the home team’s jersey and the away team’s hat. She’ll have a Leaf hat tonight…. or I hope she has a Leaf hat tonight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #64 David Kämpf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #85 Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#98 Victor Mete – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Extras: Wayne Simmonds, Mac Hollowell, Denis Malgin
Injured: Calle Järnkrok, Jordie Benn, Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin
Dallas Stars Projected Lines
#21 Jason Robertson – #24 Roope Hintz – #16 Joe Pavelski
#27 Mason Marchment – #91 Tyler Seguin – #12 Radek Faksa
#14 Jamie Benn – #53 Wyatt Johnston – #10 Ty Dellandrea
#25 Joel Kiviranta – #11 Luke Glendening – #34 Denis Gurianov
#4 Miro Heiskanen – #6 Colin Miller
#20 Ryan Suter – #5 Nils Lundkvist
#23 Esa Lindell – #2 Jani Hakanpää
Starter: #29 Jake Oettinger
#41 Scott Wedgewood