Two really good teams meet tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Dallas Stars play in Texas. The Stars enter the game with a record of 14-6-5, and the Maple Leafs 15-5-6.
Both teams are coming off overtime losses. The Stars were down four goals in the third period to the Minnesota Wild, came back to tie the game, and then lost in a shootout by a score of 6-5. It shows the team’s firepower.
The Maple Leafs left a five-game winning streak on the ice when they lost in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams are trying to regain their winning form tonight.
Item One: What to Watch Tonight from a Maple Leafs’ Perspective
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, there are a few things of interest to watch in the game.
First, Mitch Marner is seeking to push his franchise-leading, consecutive-game scoring streak to 20 games. Against the Lightning in a 4-3 overtime loss, Marner scored two special teams goals – one on the penalty kill and the other on the power play. He’s proving to be a special player (from ‘Gilmour on Marner’s record Maple Leafs run: ‘Some guys are different, and he is one of those guys’, Toronto Sun, 04/12/2022).
Second, newcomer right-shot defenseman Conor Timmins will make his debut for the team. He’s been practicing and preparing for tonight for almost two weeks since coming from the Arizona Coyotes. He’ll be paired with Victor Mete on the team’s third pairing.
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Although Timmins was seen as a short-term fix for the Maple Leafs’ defensive injuries, it’s possible he might get a good chance to stick with this team over the long term. He’s still young for a defenseman at 24 years old. He’ll be motivated to play well.
It’s easy to think of Timmins as older than Mac Hollowell, but their birthdays are within eight days of each other. Timmins was born on September 18, 1998, and Hollowell was born on September 26, 1998. That makes Timmins only eight days older than his defensive teammate. They are both from southern Ontario.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (SDA)
Third, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (SDA) gets a chance to play. He’s a “unique” player – that word came up several times during interviews. He’s smaller, gifted, and has tried to build his game from being mostly a playmaker to becoming more like his “hero” Marner.
SDA has noted that the way Marner plays gives him hope he can make it as a “smaller player.” Marner is so strong on the puck and defensively-minded that he’s a model for SDA’s game.
Item Two: Matt Murray Gets the Start Tonight
Matt Murray has been playing lights out for the Maple Leafs; however, he had a moment in the overtime that cost his team the game. He could have and should have stopped the shot that won it for the Lightning. Tonight, he’ll get a shot at redemption against the Stars.
How will he do against the NHL’s leading goal scorer – Nick’s big brother Jason Robertson. The elder Robertson brother leads the NHL with 23 goals. The Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid has 22 goals, and the Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat has scored 20. Both scored last night.
Even with the loss to the Lightning, Murray’s record is still strong. He has not been defeated in regulation since he’s come back from his adductor injury. Over those seven games, he’s put up a record of 5-0-2 with a goals-against-average of 2.43.
What happens now that Ilya Samsonov has returned will be interesting. Will coach Keefe split the starts, or will he rely on the 28-year-old Murray as his clear number one? Samsonov has been as good as Murray in goal. The tandem gives this team a chance to win every game.
Item Three: Ilya Samsonov Has Been Named to Start Thursday
The report right now is that Samsonov is expected to start when the Maple Leafs return home to play the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Likely then Murray will meet the Calgary Flames on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada.
On the season, Samsonov has been every bit as solid in the net as Murray. In fact, their records are close to identical, with the slight edge going to Samsonov. Samsonov has a goals-against-average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .924. His record in nine games is 7-2-0. In his last game against the San Jose Sharks, he stopped all but one of 24 shots in his return from his knee injury.
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It’s a good situation for the Maple Leafs, with both starters in top form thus far. My sense is that, although both goalies have missed time with injuries this season, the bigger injury concern is Murray. Therefore, it’s likely that the starts will be balanced throughout the season.
Item Four: Maple Leafs Line Combinations and Defensive Pairings
The following are the projected Maple Leafs’ lines based on Tuesday’s practice in Dallas.
First Line: Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Second Line: Nick Robertson – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Third Line: Alex Kerfoot – David Kämpf – Pierre Engvall
Fourth Line: Zach Aston-Reese – Pontus Holmberg – Semyon Der-Arguchintsev
First Pairing: Mark Giordano – Justin Holl
Second Pairing: Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
Third Pairing: Victor Mete – Conor Timmins
Ilya Samsonov (Backup)
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
After the game tonight, the team heads home for three games. The third game will be against the Anaheim Ducks a week from today. By that time, it’s likely that TJ Brodie will be back on the ice. The report was that he was in full practice yesterday.
Brodie suffered an oblique injury and hasn’t played since November 11. I believe that playing Timmins tonight is a prelude to seeing Brodie on the ice when the team returns home Thursday.
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf