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Leafs Postgame: Big D in Town

Our Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Dallas Stars for the hockey game on this Tuesday night for what could easily have been touted as a tight competition. The Stars are just 1 point ahead of the Maple Leafs (with 1 fewer game played, mind you).

The game saw the return of Frederik Andersen to the Leafs net, relieving new Leaf Jack Campbell of his fourth start in a week.

Here are some thoughts from tonight’s game.

Rough Return for Freddie

The Leafs got behind in this one early as the Stars scored less than 2 minutes into the first period:

And then, as the second period got going, another goal early in the period from Radek Faksa to make it 2-0:

Then in the 3rd, ANOTHER early period goal from Tyler Seguin to make it 3-1:

The first two goals seemed highly preventable for Frederik Andersen, but hopefully it’s just a rust issue and not just a continuation of his run of poor play recently. With a 90.4% save percentage in December and an 89.7% save percentage in January, Andersen’s first start in February appears to be an unfortunate trend of decline.

Low Event Hockey is not for the Leafs

The first period was a black hole for offense, and it killed the Leafs’ hopes for getting any kind of recovery from the early goal against. There were just 9 shots total in the first period.

The narrative in this game from the broadcast team is that this was a typical Stars performance, but the Stars are actually in the bottom half of the league in terms of shot attempts allowed.

The Stars were pressuring the Leafs on the puck with such intensity that there was no room to create offense.

The second period was much better, with 24 shots total, as the game opened up following the Leafs going down 2-0.

The third period went back to the dead puck of the first period it seemed, as the shots were just ***, despite the Leafs’ desperation to climb back into the game. The puck control was there just not the shots.

Ultimately, the Leafs will have to find a way to open their opponent up to get enough shots that their offence can thrive, as they were unable to in this one.

Young Defence Shining

The young pairing of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren were shining in this game and playing with a level of poise that felt like they were highly experienced. However, they also brought a level of creativity that only youthful, mobile defenders could bring.

Their ability to find ways to move the puck, and themselves, around the defensive zone to create an exit opportunity was impressive.

Liljegren did only receive 10-ish minutes of ice time tonight, and Sandin just 15 minutes, so they were clearly a bottom pairing. However, that quality from the bottom pairing should help the Leafs in the long term to get scoring chances from outside of their top two lines.

Loading Up Didn’t Work

Sheldon Keefe started the game with a Nylander-Matthews-Marner line that was intriguing to say the least. However, it was clear through two periods that they just didn’t have a connection that was working in this game.

Keefe broke them up later in the game, returning to Kerfoot with Tavares and Nylander, and Hyman with Matthews and Marner. It had a clear impact right away to Toronto’s energy and ability to create possession time in the Dallas zone.

Fights?

The addition of Kyle Clifford to the Leafs lineup has brought a fighting desire that has been absent from Toronto teams since the Winnipeg Blue Bomber days (Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr).

His tussle with Jamie Oleksiak had an impact, I thought, as the Leafs didn’t really look threatening offensively until that bout in the second period.

While maybe it didn’t directly contribute, this Auston Matthews powerplay goal was scored about 7 minutes after the fight:

Final Thoughts

Toronto clawed the game close to make it 3-2, but ultimately were not able to tie it up to take the game to their 4th straight overtime.

The Leafs were lackluster for most of the game tonight, but Ben Bishop also had a really solid performance to not allow any of the long controlled zone time in the 3rd period turn into goals.

This wasn’t a bad loss per se, as Dallas is out of conference, and Florida got demo’d by Philly, so the Leafs didn’t lose ground. But, the lost opportunity to gain ground is frustrating nonetheless.

The Leafs will be in action next on Saturday, as they make the short trip to Ottawa to take on the Senators at 7 p.m. Eastern time.