By: Spencer Lussier
The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in action once again, after a 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks last night, which is the first Leafs win in the Windy City since 2003. They come into Dallas tonight to play a very edgy yet skilled team before the All-Star break.
The line juggling seems to have showed some promise in last night’s game for the Leafs. The main purpose for the shake-up was to generate more offence for a team that averages just two goals a game in 2018. Well, they only scored twice once again in regulation before the Nylander’s overtime winner, but at least these newly formed lines are more suitable for what the team is trying to accomplish. Mitch Marner scored a goal in this one, after he was moved up to Kadri’s line in place of Leo Komarov. He proved to be the shot of energy to a line that has been struggling on offence for quite some time. Frederik Andersen was spectacular last night once again. Freddie made 34 saves for the win. He will give up the crease in tonight’s matchup to Curtis McElhinney, who is making his first appearance since December 20th.
The task is daunting for the Leafs tonight as they play one of the hottest teams at home dating back to last season. Dallas is 21-8 in their past 29 home games and more recently 10-1 in their past eleven. To make matters worse is the Stars are 5-0 in their last five meetings with Atlantic Division opponents. The Stars are in a middle of a bounce back season, currently locking down the first wild card spot. The biggest need was a starting goaltender and they accomplished that in the offseason, picking up Ben Bishop. The Stars have always had offensive threats and owns the best offensive duo in the game with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but what was holding them back was the uncertainty in net. Now Bishop hasn’t been his Vezina candidate self this season but he has done what Dallas needed him to do which is be consistent in the net. They are a fast team with youth and speed all over the lineup, but they play a real gritty way with lots of pressure, which is not good for a beat-up Leafs defence.
Player to Watch on Dallas: Alex Radulov
I made mention of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn who each have been among the offensive leaders in recent years, but the person to watch for tonight is their line mate Alex Radulov. He broke the hearts of many Habs fans when he signed with Dallas this off-season, but Radulov has been money well spent for the Stars half way into the season. Radulov is the leader in points amongst the forwards with 47 in 49 games. The 31-year-old has eight goals and 18 points in his last eleven games. He will be involved once again tonight, being one of the few players to play the Leafs a lot last season. Radulov’s game makes him effective every night. As we see now, he has been carrying the offence for Dallas since 2018 started, but if the offence was to go away, he is a very aggressive player that isn’t afraid to mix it up physically.
Watchability Scale: 6/10
It almost seems like every night I anticipate a high-flying speed and transition game. That is certainly Toronto’s strength to play that way, and Dallas has the personnel to play that way too. However, the Stars are a bigger, stronger team that like to bang and crash on the boards and establish the cycle game, which can prove to be an issue against a worn-down team like Toronto. Especially with the All-Star break looming, I think a lot of players will already be on vacation mode. I don’t expect much from the Leafs in this game, making this a 6/10 on the scale.