Toronto Maple Leafs (26-17-7) @ Dallas Stars (28-17-4)
Time: 7:30 pm ET
Watch on: Sportsnet (National)
Opponent’s site: Defending Big D

To put it bluntly, the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t like playing teams like the Dallas Stars. The Stars play a pretty average game in terms of giving and taking shots, they have been very good at keeping the slot clear all season, and they’re running with the league’s best team save percentage off the backs of two pretty good goalies (Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin).

The Leafs like fun hockey with lots of chances either way and betting on the odds that their shooting talent and goalie will make the difference. The Stars are the type of team, as Micah colourfully explains, that find the most joy in bottling up the game and stifling chances that can make a difference.

In early December, the Stars fired their head coach Jim Montgomery during the Fall Purge and replaced him with former Lightning defensive coach Rick Bowness. Since the change, the Stars have been a worse team in all shot metrics, moving from about even in 5v5 score adjusted shots and expected goals into the negatives, down about four percentage points on average. And yet, their record has improved under Bowness thanks to winning those close games with a strong power play.

Check out this thread for some excellent detail on the changes under Bowness:

For a good example of these types of wins, check out the Stars 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. I thought Matthew at our sister site gave a very insightful look at the game. This paragraph where he explains that the Lightning were slowed down as the Stars took control of the game.

“After the opening 20 minutes, the Lightning managed to tilt the ice in their favor, but only slightly. They led in shot attempts 21-17, generated an xGF% of 51%, led in scoring chances 10-7, and high danger chances 4-1. Tampa Bay closed out the period exceptionally well, however, their slow start crept back into their play during a second period that saw the Stars take complete control of the game.”

Morning After Thoughts: Lighting scrounge a point in overtime loss to Stars

I’m not sure if the Bowness style will work long term, but if it works tonight, it’s something the Leafs could fall victim to. To his credit, total shutdown hockey is a style his skaters are geared towards. For example, Esa Lindell is their second-most used defenseman behind Miro Heiskanen. Roman Polak hovers between fourth and fifth spot on the depth chart just behind Andrej Sekera.

Even at forward, the Stars have players who love to play a low-event game like Radek Faksa, Andrew Cogliano, and Blake Comeau. They also have Joe Pavelski, Alex Radulov, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn up top who all have great defensive and offensive numbers. What I’m saying is don’t go down and play at their level, be confident in a more fun, exciting system and it’s proven effectiveness.

Okay, what I’m really saying is please god someone make sure you’re covering when Tyson Barrie and Justin Holl super pinch with nothing in their minds other than an activated D.

Lastly, I don’t know how I feel about the Stars wearing our St. Pats jerseys, though I do appreciate the early start time. The Eastern time zone is the Best time zone.

Maple Leafs Lines
Based on yesterday’s lines at practice

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Andreas Johnsson - Pierre Engvall - Kasperi Kapanen
Trevor Moore - Frederik Gauthier - Jason Spezza

Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Cody Ceci
Travis Dermott - Tyson Barrie

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

Stars Lines
Based on yesterday’s practice

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Denis Gurianov - Jason Dickinson - Joe Pavelski
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano* - Justin Dowling - Corey Perry

Esa Lindell - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - John Klingberg

Ben Bishop
Anton Khudobin

If Hintz and Cogliano don’t play, the Stars will only have 11 healthy forwards on their roster. Recently healthy Stephen Johns and Taylor Fedun are the seventh and eight defensemen that could slot in.