Maple Leafs Make it Two Wins in-a-Row Before All-Star Weekend

Toronto (4) Dallas (1) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, January 26, 2018

Thursday marked Toronto’s final test before All-Star Weekend festivities kick off in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida over the next few days. Auston Matthews will be the Maple Leafs’ lone representative—and rightfully so with 36 points (21G, 15A) in 40 games thus far. 

It’s almost surreal but this will be his second straight appearance since Leo Komarov had the honour of attending in 2016. In case you didn’t know, times used to be dark in Leafs Nation… Very dark. As in P.A. Parenteau led the team in goals with 20, kind of dark.

On a lighter note, we’re still waiting to hear the rest of the team’s plans are for their weekend off. 

Mike Babcock’s newly-constructed lineup prevailed on Wednesday night in Chicago as his team took the front end of a back-to-back with a 3-2 overtime win. 

It was an unconventional game-winner, as Nylander was gifted a penalty shot directly of the face-off. The play took just 0:06 seconds for William Nylander to win the game-tying an NHL record for fastest goal scored in the extra frame.

That same lineup would remain intact as Toronto traveled to Dallas for the second leg of their road trip, with the only difference being in the crease.

Curtis McElhinney received the nod in goal after Frederik Andersen backstopped the Leafs to a 34-save victory just one night prior. It’s the 34-year-old’s first start since December 20th, looking to build upon a poor 1-3-0 record on the road. 

He went on to state the importance of his first start in the new year,

“It’ll be a tough game. Dallas has got a high offence. The first 10 minutes will be very important. It will be one of those things where we will just want to get in there and get settled in as quickly as we can.”

That might be a challenge considering the Stars have been utterly spectacular on home ice this season with a 17-6-1 record. Potential Norris Trophy candidate, John Klingberg, also came in with points in 10 of his last 11 games.

Not to mention, Jason Spezza has been known to be a Leaf-killer over the years and currently holds the third-most points (58) against them, among active skaters. He appeared rather quiet tonight, though.

As the action got underway, it remained knotted at zero’s until someone was finally able to break through at the 15:50 mark of the frame. Patrick Marleau found himself breaking into the offensive zone before being stripped by Esa Lindell, allowing Mitch Marner to scoop up the loose puck and connect with the eventual goal-scorer—Nazem Kadri.

After going through a significant scoring drought consisting of just 1 goal in 20 games, Kadri now has goals in two-consecutive contests. 

The Maple Leafs took that lead safely into intermission and went on to open the second period with the same intensity. It took all but 1:55 but Toronto managed to increase their lead to two goals on the back of Zach Hyman’s 9th tally of the season. William Nylander led the march into Dallas territory before challenging Ben Bishop with a deceptive wrist shot, which he failed to contain and allowed Hyman to convert on the rebound.

Dallas pushed back but simply could not solve the wall that was Curtis McElhinney.

Now that Kadri has the monkey off his back, there’s no reason to not expect him to keep scoring—and he proved that tonight. 

Toronto had a power play opportunity later in the period and would increase their lead to 3-0 thanks to an unlikely bounce past Ben Bishop. Nazem Kadri threw a blind puck towards the goalie and somehow found the back of the net after a successful redirection off of Mattias Janmark. Jake Gardiner recorded his second assist of the night on the play.

Later in the frame, Dallas was finally able to break through and make it a 3-1 hockey game.

Alexander Radulov nearly single-handedly got his team on the scoreboard with a power move following an offensive zone draw. Auston Matthews won a clean face-off back to Gardiner, who quickly lost possession of the puck to Radulov before allowing him time to locate a teammate. The hulking Russian winger swung around the net before connecting with Tyler Seguin down-low for a one-timer past McElhinney. 

Going forward, it appeared too little, too late for the Stars, as time wound down to a close during the final twenty minutes of regulation.

The Maple Leafs added an insurance marker courtesy of Auston Matthews’s 22nd in order to seal a 4-1 victory. William Nylander hooked up for a two-on-one with his favourite partner-in-crime and fed him with a crisp backhand saucer pass to beat Bishop—Jake Gardiner also notched an assist for his third of the night.

Over his last 5 games, Gardiner has a whopping 9 points and is proving to step up admirably in Morgan Rielly’s absence.

Although the scoreboard looked the part, Toronto’s underwhelming possession numbers as described by 41.59 CF% paint a very different picture. Dallas also led the way with 40 shots on goal opposed to their opposition’s lowly 29. It’s still a much-need win nonetheless.

All-Star Weekend will be front and centre for the next few days as the league’s top players descend upon Tampa Bay, Florida for several days of fun-filled events, while the remainder gets to relax as they please. If you think about it, who’s the real winner now?

Toronto will return to action on Wednesday, January 31st when they take on the New York Islanders at home, puck drop is set at 7:30 p.m. EST.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs