Game Day: Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Dallas Stars
Watching the game, it appeared as if a few of the players were caught taking pictures of the legendary Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and who could blame them, right?
The Maple Leafs were in town awaiting Friday nights match with the Dallas Stars, who, not unlike the Leafs, have gotten off to a surprisingly great start to the 2011-12 season.
Toronto enters tonight’s tilt with a record of 12-8-2 while the Stars have been equally good at 13-8-0. That said, both teams have struggled of late, with Toronto going 4-5-1 in their past ten, while Dallas owns a 5-5-0 record in their past ten games.
These two teams last met November 22nd of 2010, with Toronto winning the game by a final score of 4-1. Nikolai Kulemin had two goals in that game, while Mikhail Grabovski netted two assists.
With Kulemin struggling (two goals, nine points through 22 games) and Grabovski nursing an injury, there is little chance of a repeat performance by the Russian duo.
That said, Toronto has outscored their opponents by a 16-5 margin over the past three games, which bodes well for the Buds as they will have to put on an offensive clinic against Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who leads the NHL in wins with 13, while posting an impressive 2.32 goals against average and a .928 save percentage.
Up front the Stars the trio of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro, have combined for 18 goals and 37 assists, for a grand total of 55 points. Eriksson has ten goals on the season, while Michael Ryder sits second with seven goals on the season.
On the Stars blue line, Edmonton Oilers cast-off Sheldon Souray has quietly been putting up all-star numbers, posting four goals and nine assists for a total of 13 points to go along with a sparkling plus +11 rating.
The additions of Steven Ott and Adam Burish to the Stars lineup, combined with a resurgence from veteran forward Brenden Morrow, has given the Stars some much needed physical presence along the boards and in front of the net. Both Burish (hand) and Morrow (upper-body injury) are expected to miss tonight’s contest, which may bode well for the Blue and White.
Despite some key injuries to James Reimer, Mikhail Grabovski (who is getting healthy), Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi the Maple Leafs should be able to handle the Stars, who take far too many penalties, which should bode well for the Maple Leafs, who own the leagues fifth best offense (3.09 goals scored per game) and the third best power play at a 22.6 percent success rate.
With two 7-1 blowout wins to their credit in the past three games,Toronto will enter Dallas with plenty of confidence. Phil Kessel (16 goals, 14 assists) continues to sit atop the NHL scoring leaders, while Joffrey Lupul continues to surprise even himself with 11 goals and 26 points on the season, putting him fourth overall in the scoring race.
Tim Connolly has played excellent hockey when he has been in the lineup posting ten points in ten games (three goals, seven assists), including two power play markers. When healthy, Connolly brings balance, leadership and some size to the Maple Leafs lineup. Should he stay healthy, Connolly will continue to ignite Kessel and Lupul, while giving the Leafs the number one centre they have long needed.
With both teams struggling to find their consistency, it appears as if this will be a close game. With that in mind, look for the team that stays out of the penalty box to emerge victorious.
Until next time,