The gifted Toronto Maple Leafs ran into the well-defined Dallas Stars on Thursday and lost by a final score of 3-2.
It’s been the story of late, with Toronto 2-3-1 in their last six games.
The good news was that the Maple Leafs saw goalie Frederik Andersen return to the crease after missing four games.
It was a study of systemic adherence and the Stars won their third straight, gunning it to a 33-19-5 record. Tyler Seguin scored, ending a 17-game drought, and his team scored on the first shot of every period. That was all it took, with Denis Gurianov and Radek Faksa scoring the other goals.
Auston Matthews scored his 41st of the season, more good news, and Zach Hyman had the other Toronto goal. The Maple Leafs are 30-20-8, good for third in the Atlantic Division thanks to Florida dropping a homer to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Panthers have a game at hand, which will become rather important in the near future.
“You’re playing against a team that knows how to make it hard on you defensively,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the Stars. “You can’t spot them a lead just because you make it even harder. That’s a real tough team to play against when you’re chasing a game.”
Andersen was not overly busy in the Toronto crease, making just 16 stops.
But it was the little things that stood out, as defenceman Jake Muzzin noticed.
“We were a little disconnected tonight,” he said.
That disconnection has a lot to do with Toronto’s own systemic adherence, which is to lean on talented units to press the advantage. That works when the players can skate creatively and make opportunities, but Thursday saw things get pretty jammed up.
Even when Matthews skated with William Nylander and Mitch Marner in one of the priciest line combinations in the NHL, the results didn’t come.
Toronto did get a bit of fire in their bellies when Kyle Clifford dropped the mitts against Jamie Oleksiak in just the fourth tilt of the season for the team, but capitalizing with a win wasn’t in the cards.
And there was more bad news, as winger Andreas Johnsson went down with a knee injury Keefe said was “not going to be short term.”
Toronto will suit up against the Ottawa Senators Saturday, then head over to Buffalo for a Sunday game. The Stars are on their way to Montreal.
Photo credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press