Last season, I had the Stars as my sleeper playoff threat – so naturally Kari Lehtonen looked like a hot mess, the team’s defense was forgettable and (at times) downright upsetting aside from John Klingberg, and Tyler Seguin, Val Nichushkin, and Patrik Nemeth all missed significant time.
This year, I figured the swap of Johnny Oduya and Trevor Daley was too much of a lateral movement to have much of an impact. I figured they’re remain a poor possession team, getting marginally better without Ryan Garbutt but continuing to need a ton of work.
Instead, they’re tearing it up.
Heading into Tuesday evening’s game, the Leafs are 2-8-4 on the year; Dallas, in comparison, is 12-3-0 and second in the entire NHL. Shows what I know.
There’s been a key shift in Dallas’ goaltending staff, and John Klingberg, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin have picked up as if last season never ended – so that’s certainly helping the Central Division club plenty. For the Leafs, though, that’s not exactly promising as they head into game two of three straight road games. There’s a hope that they can eke out at least a pity point (what separates them from being laughably last in the league), but that may be a lot to ask tonight.
Here’s what you need to know for the team pre-game:
Since getting demoted to the AHL, Mark Arcobello has three goals and six points in three games – which pretty much sums up the difference between the success of the Marlies and the Leafs right now.
The only team to have been limited to fewer than four wins this year (Toronto has two), the Leafs are continuing to give Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner some breathing room. The Leafs are actually starting to score, something they’d been struggling with to start out; Reilly and Phaneuf both lead the team in scoring, though, which is all you really need to know. It also doesn’t help that Daniel Winnik is still out, being replaced by Peter Holland after leaving the game against Washington with an injury.
How do you watch this game? Continue to have faith in Babcock to hammer better possession play into the players that will matter next year – the young defensemen – and hope that they can stave off some of Dallas’ starpower (no pun intended) tonight.
There’s only so much that can be said about Dallas’ Star forwards (again with the name puns, I know) – but Mattias Janmark is getting high middle six minutes, and he fully deserves them. The 22 year old forward has been a pleasant surprise this year, and that could impact the game if he capitalizes on any scoring opportunities if he’s given offensive starts.
Jordie Benn is a significantly better option for a bottom pairing defenseman than Roman Polak, but there isn’t much reason to believe that Jyrki Jokipakka has miles more to offer than Scott Harrington; if anything, the most exciting action will be on the back end. Morgan Rielly is for Toronto what John Klingberg is for Dallas; both young and promising blue liners, Klingberg and Rielly are worth watching for the game tonight.
Hardly a surprise, but Optimus Reim is back in net for the Leafs.
Using last season’s .914 unadjusted save percentage as a reasonable indicator of what the league average save percentage should be, Reimer is sort of right on par with the rest of the team – that’s to say that he’s kind of just below average, or right where you’d hope a team’s 1A or 1B sits.
Reimer’s only faced the Stars twice in his career, getting credited with only a single win (but hey, at least he’s won against the club!) and posting very Reimer-esque numbers against them in the two games. The good news is that he’s got that win and a .915 against the Stars, allowing only five goals on 59 shots against; the bad news is one of those goals was allowed short-handed and the team doesn’t look all that hot right now.
Across from him, there’s Antti Niemi, though – which is to say that there’s always hope the Finnish veteran will continue to be the worse of Dallas’ two netminders this year and give Toronto a chance to not get embarrassed by a centre they could have drafted themselves.
Niemi historically posts good numbers against the Leafs, owning a 5-2-0 record and a .924 unadjusted SV% against the visiting club; he’s also generally better at home and seems to improve about a month into each season, so there’s also that to consider. I’ve never been a huge Niemi fan, but Dallas has a great offense (and Toronto is laying their faith in Reimer still) to go with Jeff Reese coaching their netminders this year. He worked wonders with Steve Mason, and that’s reason to wonder whether he can’t make Niemi look even sharper against the Leafs than normal.
What to Watch For:
- Tyler Seguin continues to be a sore spot in every Boston fan’s side, which should make him a friend to Toronto fans – but he was selected with a pick from the Phil Kessel trade, which just makes him a pain in the ass who’s very fun and nerve-wracking to watch. He’s been inhumanly good, and that probably won’t change.
- Oh, and Jamie Benn is pretty decent.
- So is John Klingberg.
- The Stars are scary this year.
- Toronto is playing Peter Holland and not Daniel Winnik… there’s honestly nothing worth saying about the team that hasn’t been said yet. Morgan Rielly is a fun nugget of young talent, but the Leafs are still somewhere between last year’s level of unwatchable and simply bad.