The Maple Leafs hosted the Dallas Stars tonight, in a game that was missing key players on both sides. Toronto beat Dallas 7-4 less than a month ago, in a game where both Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner scored four points, while Auston Matthews and John Tavares netted two goals each.
Alex Radulov was out with a lower body injury, while Ben Bishop got the night off in favour of Anton Khudobin. On Toronto’s side, Justin Holl made his season debut next to Travis Dermott, and he was looking to score his third career goal in just his third career game.
Dallas’ lineup also featured scoring-sensation Roman Polak, while Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were split up onto different lines:
Stars skating like this in warmup:— Mike Heika (@MikeHeika) November 1, 2018
Dowling is a healthy scratch, Radulov (lower body), Carrick (lower body), Johns (neck/headaches) are hurt.
Here’s how the Leafs countered, with Marner and Tavares paired back together again, and Ron Hainsey playing in his 1000th career game:
#Leafs lines vs. Dallas:— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) November 1, 2018
The Leafs played the majority of the opening minutes in Dallas’ end, and although there weren’t many high-danger chances, Frederik Andersen had some time to relax. Tavares’ line started with a couple of heavy shifts, and Marner had two takeaways before the first commercial break.
Brett Ritchie took the game’s first penalty seven minutes in, and Toronto’s top unit quickly looked dangerous. Marner slid over one of his patented cross-ice passes over to Tavares, and the resulting wrist shot hit the post. The second unit did not get much going in the back-half of the powerplay, but Toronto was outshooting Dallas 8-2 in the first half of this period, so it was hard to complain too much.
Dallas reunited the Benn and Seguin duo in the last minute of the period, and the Stars finally generated a few decent chances on Andersen. Nevertheless, the game remained scoreless after one, with the Leafs outshooting the Stars 9-7. Seguin was the only forward on his team with a shot on goal.
The second period started just like first period, as the Stars didn’t have a shot on goal in the first five minutes. Just when it looked like Andersen could take a nap, Rielly fell down at the offensive blueline, and the Stars had a clear two-on-one. Ritchie elected to pass rather than shoot on the odd-man rush, and thankfully, Andersen got over in a hurry to stop Jason Dickinson.
Dallas didn’t have much going offensively throughout the first half of this game, but Par Lindholm’s holding penalty handed them their first powerplay right around the halfway point. Right when it looked like the Leafs would get away unscathed, Benn tipped in Seguin’s wrist shot to give the Stars a 1-0 lead:
Holl took a holding penalty on the very next shift, but it was the Leafs who had the best chance during the next two minute stretch, as Marner dodged his way around Miro Heiskanen, and just missed deking out Khudobin for Toronto’s first short-handed goal of the season:
While the Leafs were still trailing, they did manage to kill of the penalty, and another nice rush from Marner quickly forced Methot into a tripping penalty. Unfortunately, once again it was the team on the penalty kill who had the best scoring chance, as Blake Comeau headed down on a two-on-one, and was promptly stopped by Andersen. The Stars carried their 1-0 lead into the second intermission, despite the fact that the Leafs were doing a great job at shutting them down at five-on-five.
It sure would be nice if the Leafs could score even one damn goal. On the bright side, it didn’t take long for the Stars to take a penalty, as Ritchie tripped up Holl just over a minute into the frame. After the first unit couldn’t get the job done, the second unit started generating a couple of nice chances, but Andreas Johnsson was robbed by Khudobin on a quick one-timer from the slot.
Devin Shore doubled his team’s lead five minutes into the period. Dermott turned the puck over to Seguin, and a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence of cross-ice passes left Andersen hanging out to dry:
Dickinson took a tripping penalty on the very next shift, so the Leafs were gifted an opportunity to get a goal right back. The top unit was buzzing, with terrific puck movement for a long-stretch, but no one could find the back of the net. The second unit sure looked like it was missing William Nylander, and for the fourth time this game, the Leafs couldn’t capitalize on the man-advantage.
The next few minutes simply confirmed that the Leafs were cursed. The puck bounced on both Tavares and Marner while they had the puck in high-danger areas, then Marleau hit the edge of the post a minute later.
The Stars did well to keep this game as boring as possible, until Ritchie earned his third penalty of the night with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. With Andersen on the bench, Tavares fed the puck to Hyman in front of the net, who tipped it over to Marleau to get the Leafs on the board.
2-1 Dallas, with three minutes remaining.
Toronto had approximately 4343434324234 chances in the next two minutes, but simply couldn’t capitalize on three minutes of offensive zone time. The Leafs were obviously cursed tonight, and despite playing quite well, they simply did not have much puck luck.
Marner was the best player on the ice for Toronto tonight, and Marleau had one of his best games of the season. Andreas Johnsson also played very well, and the Leafs simply deserved better. They will now head to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Saturday night.