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Maple Leafs vs. Dallas Stars preview: More fire wagon hockey?

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The Stars spanked the Leafs a week ago, is tonight an opportunity for vengeance?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Dallas Stars: Game #52
Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Air Canada Centre
Broadcast/Streaming: TSN 4 (blackouts in effect)
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D

It was exactly one week ago that the Stars played the Leafs in Dallas for the first of their two games this season. It was a truly odd game for stats watchers.

The Stars walloped the Leafs hard, winning 6-3. They scored five goals, by five different players, in the first period alone. Frederik Andersen was chased from the net after the third goal, but McElhinney wasn’t much help, letting in another two. Yes, the Leafs had a very positive corsi event advantage the whole way through the second and third periods, taking way more shot attempts than the Stars. That does make sense in part because most teams would turtle when they have a three goal lead in the third period, especially when they see that the other team is clearly rattled.

The Leafs got the puck across the line a fourth time, but it was called back after a weird video review because Soshnikov kicked Lehtonen’s stick while being shoved by half of the Stars players on the ice and falling down in the crease.

On that night, the loss and the high goals against count stung, but still felt like an aberration. This was likely in part because of the two shutouts in the prior week. In reality the pattern had been emerging for some time. It’s now one week later. The Leafs have played another three games, and let in at least five goals in all three.

I thought the Stars were supposed to be the ‘fire wagon’ hockey team, built to get into the playoffs by winning games 6-5 or losing 6-5 in OT? Are the Leafs the new Stars? This is the narrative you are going to constantly hear in general Leafs chatter for the next few games, or until inane trade deadline rumours take over the conversation.

Yet, all of this comes with the Leafs sitting pretty in that last Atlantic division playoff slot. We all know the story here though. The last place (!) Lightning are only six points back from the Leafs. They could close that to four tonight. Literally every team in the Eastern Conference still has a chance to make the playoffs.

The West is a bit different, with CoLOLrado and Glendale not anywhere near contention. But which team is sitting right above them in the standings? The Stars. They have 52 points, just like Tampa, and also don’t have a huge hill to climb to make it to the playoffs; they are only five points back from the Blues.

This isn’t a defeated team the Leafs will face tonight. They are still in the playoff hunt, and are desperate for a win. Desperate teams have a way to make things happen in this league. Also, don’t forget that Lindy Ruff is on the last season of his contract with the Stars, and, especially as of this morning, there’s a lot of unemployed NHL coaches peeking over his shoulder. He needs a big win tonight.

So, here we are on the tail end of another back-to-back, with a lot of names you wouldn’t expect putting up a poor showing last night, like Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev.

Where does Mike Bobcat go from here? Will McElhinney start? Will Alexey Marchenko make his NHL debut tonight?

The lines below are from last night’s game, but I will note updates as they come in during the afternoon.

UPDATE:

Toronto Maple Leafs

(most recent game)

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Michael Nylander
Matt Martin - Ben Smith - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick
Martin Marincin - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Curtis McElhinney
Frederik Andersen

Dallas Stars

(from Daily Faceoff)

Forward Lines

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Brett Ritchie
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Jiri Hudler - Adam Cracknell - Lauri Korpikoski

Defence Pairings

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Patrik Nemeth
Jordie Benn - Stephen Johns

Goaltenders

Antti Niemi
Kari Lehtonen

For all the rumblings about the Hunlak pairing on the Leafs third line, there are as many from Stars fans about their bottom pairing, with Jordie Benn not having many fans. Ruff recently singled out 24 year-old John Klingberg for lapses on defence. Johnny Oduya is still out injured.

Ruff has also had to shake up the forward lines to deal with the loss of Jason Spezza with an injury. Seguin has been moved to take over his position at center, and 23 year-old Brett Ritchie has moved up to play on Seguin’s right wing. Yep. That’s two guys born and raised in the GTA playing together on one line for their only visit to the ACC this season. We know who will get the obligatory hometown-boy goals tonight.

And they’re not even the only ones!

GO LEAFS GO!