Leafs-Stars takeaways: First-period disaster too much to overcome

The Stars put up five goals against the Leafs in the first and rode the lead to a 6-3 win.

• Maple Leafs surrender five goals in first period
• Stars ride contributions from Ontario-born players
• Leafs fans get taste of Matthews-Marner combo

How do you outshoot your opponent 29-8 over the final 40 minutes of a game, outscore them 2-1 during that stretch and still lose a contest that could possibly be deemed a blowout?

By allowing nearly 50 per cent of the 12 shots directed at your own net to become goals in the opening 20 minutes.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were all over the Dallas Stars in a 6-3 loss on Tuesday night, but only after the Stars had already dictated the outcome of the affair by charging out to a 5-1 first-period lead. The last time the Leafs flopped so hard in the opening frame was April 3, 2009 against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Martin Gerber started a game Curtis Joseph eventually had to take over.

Suffice it to say, the Buds’ collective all-star break lasted just a bit too long.

We’re not sure if it says more about the Leafs’ offensive potential or Dallas’s overall defensive woes, but a game that featured an early four-goal spread still never really felt over until well into the third.

Now that it is officially complete, here are some takeaways from the night.

Less than Jake

With top D-man Morgan Rielly on the shelf, the Leafs needed some blue-liners to step up. Instead, Jake Gardiner looked like he’d stepped back in time, playing the hockey that used to make Toronto supporters so nervous.

Gardiner—in a full-on wind burn situation—got danced around on Dallas’s first goal by Devin Shore, made an ill-advised pass at the Stars blue line that led to a breakaway in the dying seconds of the middle period and, in general, did nothing to make anybody forget about Rielly (who, incidentally, could be back for the Leafs’ next game in St. Louis on Thursday).

“No question he’s been good all season…but it’s been a disaster for him,” said Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, assessing Gardiner’s performance during the second intermission.

M&M, at last!

With his team down four goals to start the second, Toronto coach Mike Babcock put his lines in a blender. The tastiest combo that emerged was Auston Matthews with Zach Hyman and—wait for it—Mitch Marner.

The top two reasons for excitement in Toronto this year looked dangerous, generating early chances together. Marner’s goal, mind you, was all about his exquisite individual skill, as he deceived Stars stopper Kari Lehtonen with a little hesitation before firing the puck just inside the far post.

The goal was Marner’s 12th of the campaign and his two-point night gave him a team-leading 41 through 48 outings this year.

Power play still rockin’

While they only enjoyed a man advantage on two occasions, the Leafs’ power play continued to shine. The team’s most recent PPG came when Tyler Bozak tipped home a nice slap pass from James van Riemsdyk in the first period. That tally gave Toronto 18 man-advantage markers in its past 17 games.

While the happy power-play trend continued, the Leafs were able to reverse another pattern, winning 62 per cent of their faceoffs after entering the night with a team mark of 48.9 per cent on the season.

Toronto-area boys like playing the Leafs

The frantic pace of this game was set 2:53 into the first when Ajax’s Devin Shore shot down the wing, cut across the crease and stuffed one past Frederik Andersen. Orangeville’s Brett Ritchie buried the goal that put Dallas up 4-1. Both Ontario boys wound up with one-and-one nights.

Speaking to Christine Simpson after the first stanza, Shore acknowledged it was pretty cool notching a goal against the squad he once cheered for. He also mentioned his favourite Bud back in the day was Mats Sundin, but made sure to toss in the name Gary Roberts, too. That was probably a good idea since, as Shore explained, Roberts trains him in the off-season and failing to mention him as an idol would no doubt have resulted in punishment push-ups.

Some more familiar names were also doing damage against the team they grew up around. Mississauga’s Jason Spezza scored to give himself 58 points in 61 career contests versus the Leafs, while Brampton’s Tyler Seguin also registered a pair of helpers.

Soshnikov shows well

The last moment it seemed remotely possible Toronto could get a positive result against Dallas occurred when Nikita Soshnikov was involved in a goalmouth scramble that led to the puck entering the Stars net. Replay determined Soshnikov’s skate impeded Lehtonen’s ability to make the save and the goal was disallowed.

Still, the Leafs’ fourth-liner had a nice night, burying on a great shot from in close early in the second period. Soshnikov’s stock will rise if he turns in more games like this.