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Preview: Maple Leafs visit Dallas ahead of All-Star break

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Will the new lines survive? Or was that a one-game wonder.

NHL: JAN 31 Maple Leafs at Stars Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team vs Team: Game # 51

Time: 8:30 p.m.

Location: Dallas, Texas

Broadcast/Streaming: Fox Sports Southwest, TSN 4

Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D

One game down, one to go, and the Leafs get another break, all but Auston Matthews who has to go to Tampa to play with the Lighting for a weekend.

The first game of the new lineup, with Mitch Marner playing with Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown playing with Tyler Bozak, was a win, albeit not a stirring outright domination we might have wanted. Some of the new lines were very good, some were okay, and Matthews really struggled for much of the game.

Meanwhile the defence is also struggling, and the question of who to play more minutes to support the top pair isn’t as obvious as everyone wants to believe. Travis Dermott, who has played better than we truly had a right to expect, has been kept completely away from other teams’ top lines in his seven games. He also played mostly with Roman Polak in the last game, although he’s nominally on the second pair with Connor Carrick. Dermott has had positive results, but he’s not really ready for prime time top four usage. Not yet.

Carrick, meanwhile, who played mostly with Andreas Borgman in Chicago, is also kept right away from top forwards. He’s had some good results overall, but even when he’s listed as a second pairing defender, he’s not playing as one. In his last stretch of games, he’s played fairly poorly in terms of shot differentials and has had some intermittent success with the opportunity of some power play time.

Borgman is still very, very much a raw rookie, who gets good results most of the time when even more carefully used. This state of affairs boxes the Leafs coaches into a situation where only a very careful rotation keeps them from using the wrong defenders at the wrong time too often. Somehow, they managed to keep Roman Polak’s minutes to nearly exactly his season average last night. Which was too many, he was terrible, but the alternatives aren’t really as attractive as they seem from a superficial look at some Corsi stats.

This too shall pass, and Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly will be back, likely both after the All-Star break.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Assuming no changes, as none have been announced.

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown

Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Kasperi Kapanen

Defence Pairings

Jake Gardiner - Ron Hainsey

Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick

Andreas Borgman - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Curtis McElhinney - Starter

Frederik Andersen

Dallas Stars

Forward Lines

From Defending Big D, as of the last game

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Remi Elie - Jason Spezza - Mattias Janmark

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick

Devin Shore - Jason Dickinson - Brett Ritchie

Defence Pairings

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis - Greg Pateryn

Dillon Heatherington - Stephen Johns

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop - starter

Kari Lehtonen


What of Dallas? I’ll confess I never believed in Dallas’s system of outscoring their problems, and my disquiet with the Leafs following in the skate ruts is one reason I’m really okay with an emphasis on improving the Leafs overall defensive execution, even if improving their shot share seems impossible with their current personnel.

But Dallas this year has improved their shot share, and has done that with a cooling off all over the ice of shooting rates. They have a less high-event offence than the Leafs, but they allow a lot fewer shots. Their expected goals ratio is also very good, and they’d likely be out of the wild card spot their in and top two in the Central if they had better than average goaltending. They don’t. Ben Bishop is famous, he’s huge, but he’s not doing them any favours.

Lately Dallas has been keeping a lot of the offence to point shots, and that’s helping them out. So the Leafs need to bust through that, get traffic at the goalmouth, lose a few interference reviews, and score two extra goals. Simple, right?

They can do it, they just need to play the whole game like they did the third period last night.