Toronto Maple Leafs at Dallas Stars: Game #4
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4 and Fox Sports SW
Opponent SBNation Site: Defending Big D
The Leafs continue their road trip with a late game in Dallas tonight. They go to meet the western team most like them, and they’ll see a couple of old friends there.
Dallas has had a strong start, winning two games handily, but getting just a touch outshot both times, even when you adjust for score effects. Ben Bishop has been good enough to get the NHL’s third star of the week, but Auston Matthews is number one. We’ll see who comes out ahead on that duel tonight.
The Leafs have had a couple of bad periods so far, but overall they are above the waterline in shot share and really dominating in expected goals. And so they should be, playing poorer quality teams. Their goal differential is lagging behind, in part because of two bad goaltending performances.
There are changes to the lineup for tonight, however, and they mostly involve the forwards, although Igor Ozhiganov is back in for Martin Marincin on the third pair.
Frederik Gauthier (did you remember he was still on the roster?) draws in as 4C, and I expect that to go like it always does. He bumps Par Lindholm up and to the wing for Kadri, and that sounds interesting. Lindholm has shown some good defensive and offensive instincts, although I’m not sure he’s the shooter the Kadri line needs. Brown is immovable off of Kadri’s right wing, and some of his seemingly blandness is a run of luck, so I’m not really upset about that. Lindholm can make up for Brown’s defensive shortcomings.
Andreas Johnsson gets to sit up top, and he’s played his way right into that spot, so no one should complain, and Josh Leivo, who has been ineffective with Kadri, gets to try playing the fourth line with Gauthier. Joining them is Tyler Ennis, which puts the currently-hot Kasperi Kapanen in the Nylander spot. I like that for its effect on the team and Nylander’s psyche.
Ennis with Leivo, even with a bad centre, should be an interesting combination. They might work offensively if they get any zone time. At any rate, it’s a chance to see which of the two brings more to the party.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Par Lindholm - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown
Josh Leivo - Frederol Gauthier - Tyler Ennis
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov
Frederik Andersen - starter
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Blake Comeau
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Valeri Nichushkin - Roope Hintz - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Marc Methot - Miro Heiskanen
Connor Carrick - Roman Polak
Dallas is, like they have been for years, a team with stunning forward talent upfront, and a steep drop after the second line. Tyler Seguin has been their key to success so far, and his line will determine the score for the Stars.
Their defence is fun to look at, not just for the $2.6 million in former Leafs depth on their third pair, but for how they’re using them a lot like Toronto uses their defence corps. Dallas leans hard on Esa Lindell and John Klingberg and rolls the next three out in equal portion. Roman Polak is there to be the second unit PK guy, and to play his simple blueline game.
Connor Carrick is playing the same role Travis Dermott does for the Leafs. He’s nominally on the third pair, but he gets more minutes than his stay-at-home partner. Carrick is not playing any special teams, however, and there we have the reasons why he’s on the Stars: Dermott is better.
The surprise for Dallas is how heavy they’re working rookie Miro Heiskanen — he plays tougher competition than Carrick does, while Carrick is very clearly there to be his safety net in many ways. Heiskanen hasn’t been lighting the world on fire so far, and the Stars have other options, but so far, he’s not terrible.
After two games, however, with Carrick playing not even five full minutes with any other defender, he’s considerably better in shot share than Polak. Amazing.
This matchup should be interesting. Dallas’s top line is wicked, the second line is very good defensively and the depth is weak like tissue paper. Maybe this would be a good night to play the fourth line a little bit more.