Stars Gameday: 10/9/18 vs. TOR
The season-opening four-game homestand for Jim Montgomery's Dallas Stars (2-0-0) continues on Tuesday night when Mike Babcock's high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1-0) pay their only visit of the season to the American Airlines Center. Game time is 7:30 p.m. CDT. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest.
This is the first of two games this season between the inter-conference clubs. They will rematch in Toronto on Nov. 1. Last season, the Stars went 0-1-1 against the Maple Leafs. Dallas lost 4-1 at home on Jan. 25 and then dropped a 6-5 shootout decision on March 14 amid a 1-7-2 skid down the stretch that dealt a fatal blow to the Stars' playoff hopes.
The Stars opened the brand-new campaign with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday and followed it up with an impressive 5-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday evening.
In the Winnipeg game, the Stars' deadly top line trio of Tyler Seguin (two goals, two assists), team captain Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist), and Alexander Radulov (one goal, two assists) was dominant and supplied all the goals for their team. Dallas scorched Winnipeg for three power play goals on five opportunities. They were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Coming off an opening night 30-save shutout win against the Arizona Coyotes, goaltender Ben Bishop denied 32 of 33 shots against Winnipeg. He was named the NHL's 3rd Star of the Week.
The Stars "re-debut" of the returning Valeri Nichushkin was delayed by a preseason lower body injury. He is now ready to play. Montgomery told the attending media at practice on Monday that Nichushkin may be in the lineup against Toronto; most likely on the fourth line because the top three lines have been going well so far and because Nichushkin may need a bit of time to get situated again.
Connor Carrick, whom the Stars acquired from the Maple Leafs just before the season-opening roster deadline, has dressed in both regular season games to date. He has chipped in three assists and is plus-three at even strength. He's averaged 15:36 of ice time on the Stars' third pairing. In both games to date, he's been paired with Roman Polak. The two ex-Leafs remained together at Monday's practice, per Stars Inside Edge.
Maple Leafs Outlook
Tuesday's game is the second in a four-game road trip for the Leafs that will subsequently take them to Detroit on Thursday and conclude on Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The trip began on Sunday with a wild 7-6 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
John Tavares racked up a hat trick for Toronto against Chicago, while Auston Matthews scored his fourth and fifth goals of the young season. Defenseman Morgan Rielly's second goal of the season won the game just 19 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime frame.
The win in Chicago erased some of the bitter taste from a 5-3 home loss to the lowly Ottawa Senators the previous night, but there are still areas that Babcock's club needs to tighten up. He said after the Chicago game that after being spectators early, "I thought we did a real good job. Yet the puck kept going in on our net."
Backup goalie Garrett Sparks got the star in Chicago, stopping 25 of 31 shots. Frederik Andersen figures to return to the net in Dallas. He has made saves on 53 of 59 shots on his net thus far.
Special teams play has a been a boon to the Leafs in the early going of this season. The team is 3-for-7 on the power play and 8-for-9 on the penalty kill through three games. Toronto has scored eight goals at five-on-five. On the flip side, the Maple Leafs have also already yielded nine opposing goals at 5-on-5. Going into this season, striking a two-way play balance figured to be the Maple Leafs biggest challenge, and the first week of the season has done nothing to dispel that notion albeit in a very small sample size.
In that respect, the current Leafs are not all that unlike the 2015-16 Stars team that racked up a league-leading 267 goals and won the Central Division with 109 points but struggled to keep the puck out of their own net (230 GA). That Stars team never did quite manage to strike enough balance to be playoff-ready and were undone by that issue in the postseason (including a pair of 6-1 losses to a more disciplined St. Louis team in a second-round defeat). The current Leafs may have better goaltending than the Stars did that year, however, and the wealth is less top-heavy in the lineup.
The Maple Leafs still do not have unsigned restricted free agent William Nylander in the fold. However, they have enough depth and top-end firepower to win regularly even without him, and also have to consider their long-term salary cap picture with Matthews and Mitch Marner in the final season of their respective current entry-level contracts and defenseman Jake Gardiner a potential unrestricted free agent next July 1.
That's a longer-term planning issue for management to deal with. From the perspective of Babcock and the rest of the coaching staff, the immediate challenge is to channel all the talent (with or without Nylander) in a direction that will be successful come spring time. It's still only early October, and high-scoring games are common leaguewide this time of year.
PROJECTED LINEUPS (subject to change)
14 Jamie Benn – 91 Tyler Seguin – 47 Alexander Radulov
13 Mattias Janmark – 90 Jason Spezza – 15 Blake Comeau
17 Devin Shore – 12 Radek Faksa – 18 Tyler Pitlick
43 Valeri Nichushkin – 24 Roope Hintz – 25 Brett Ritchie
23 Esa Lindell – 3 John Klingberg
33 Marc Methot – 4 Miro Heiskanen
5 Connor Carrick – 45 Roman Polak
30 Ben Bishop
[35 Anton Khudobin]
Scratches: 6 Julius Honka (healthy), 46 Gemel Smith (healthy), 16 Jason Dickinson (healthy), Stephen Johns (IR), Martin Hanzal (IR).
12 Patrick Marleau - 34 Auston Matthews - 63 Tyler Ennis
11 Zach Hyman - 91 John Tavares - 16 Mitch Marner
32 Josh Leivo - 43 Nazem Kadri - 28 Connor Brown
18 Andreas Johnsson - 26 Par Lindholm - 24 Kasperi Kapanen
44 Morgan Rielly - 2 Ron Hainsey
51 Jake Gardiner - 22 Nikita Zaitsev
23 Travis Dermott - 52 Martin Marincin
31 Frederik Andersen
[40 Garret Sparks]
Scratches: 3 Justin Holl (healthy), 92 Igor Ozhiganov (healthy), 33 Frederik Gauthier (healthy).