DALLAS — In the NHL, there are some nights when the guy in the crease on the other side just stands on his head. There are other nights when self-inflicted errors are the cause for the lack of results.
Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center, both of those things joined forces to produce a 4-0 Stars loss to the Maple Leafs.
“You have to give their goalie credit, he made some saves,” Stars head coach Pete DeBoer said. “And then in the middle there, when we got the power plays in the second period and had a chance to claw back into the game again, it was either a big save or an execution issue with us. Just off a little bit and that’s what happened.”
No matter the model, the Stars graded out as the team that should have won the game. According to Natural Stat Trick, Dallas had a 6.14-3.92 advantage in expected goals. According to MoneyPuck, Dallas had the edge in that category 5.98-3.09. To further drive home the point, here’s how the game looked on MoneyPuck’s Deserve-To-Win-O’Meter:
In each case, the goals against pretty much followed the script. The Stars gave up three goals and an empty netter when they were expected to give up 3.92 or 3.09. Offensively, their production — zero goals— didn’t even sniff their chances — around six goals. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Stars had 48 scoring chances, 26 of them high-danger.
Ordinarily, we discuss themes of the game before looking at three non-scoring plays that stood out. For this game, we’re going to flip the script and hone in on the non-scoring plays that could have been.
While there are many to choose from, there are two big sequences and two other moments that do a pretty good job of illustrating Dallas’ struggles.
Sequence No. 1: Three odd-man rushes in 90 seconds
The Stars came out of the gate strong. Thirty seconds into the game, Joe Pavelski drew a tripping call on Mitch Marner, sending the Stars on their first power play of the evening. Though the Stars didn’t score, they did a good job applying pressure on the Maple Leafs and their goaltender, Matt Murray.
Just about five minutes into the game, John Tavares started the scoring on a rebound. With the Stars trailing 1-0 midway through the first period, it suddenly started raining odd-man rushes.
Seguin and Marchment
This play materialized because of Radek Faksa, who blocked Conor Timmins’ shot, which sent the puck fluttering down the ice in the other direction. Mason Marchment got to the puck and had a two-on-one with himself and Tyler Seguin against Auston Matthews. Matthews didn’t try to play the pass, instead closing in on Marchment, leaving Seguin wide open in the middle of the ice with nobody but the goaltender to beat. Marchment delivered the pass but Seguin was unable to finish:
To add insult, Marchment’s attempt to finish a net-front rebound resulted a penalty on him and put the Stars on the penalty kill.
Faksa and Dellandrea
While being short a man is never ideal, the Stars certainly made the best of it. Forty-five seconds into the Leafs power play, Faksa once again made a great play in the defensive zone. This time, he reaped the benefits himself, jacking the puck and skating it up the ice for a two-on-one with Ty Dellandrea skating with him to his left. Faksa executed the pass perfectly but Dellandrea’s shot went wide of the net.
Kiviranta, Seguin and Heiskanen
Less than 30 seconds later, the Stars had another scoring chance on the penalty kill, this time a three-on-one. Joel Kiviranta took the Semyon Der-Arguchintsev turnover and led the rush, with Miro Heiskanen quickly getting in position across the ice and Seguin trailing behind while the Leafs only had Timmins back to try and neutralize the play. Kiviranta dropped the puck back to Seguin, who was unable to get a shot on the net. Kiviranta’s attempts to clean it up failed as well.
Sequence No. 2: 1:33 of 5-on-3
The Stars really had 1:38 of 5-on-3 but the last five seconds came at the beginning of the third period. They finished the second period with 93 seconds on the two-man advantage after Justin Holl gifted the Stars an opportunity by doing his best Jacob deGrom impression with the puck and throwing it down the ice.
After the Stars were unable to score in the first 48 seconds, Marner’s stick broke while blocking a shot. The Stars had their first power play unit of Heiskanen, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski and Jamie Benn on the ice against two fully equipped Toronto skaters, one penalty killer without a stick and Murray in the net.
“It changes a little bit (5-on-3 vs. 5-on-4) and they lost a stick there too so we had a little more room and time,” Heiskanen said. “It’s pretty much the same thing as 5-on-4, try to move the puck quickly and shoot it when we can.”
From there, the Maple Leafs put on a show. First, a stick-less Marner leaned in and blocked a shot by Robertson. The puck went right back to Robertson, who fired it to the right circle. Hintz uncorked a shot that was blocked by Rasmus Sandin. Still, the puck stayed with the Stars and Hintz hit Pavelski on a seam pass. Pavelski quickly put a shot on net from the other side. Murray made it over just in time and the puck bounced back to Pavelski, who returned the favor to Hintz and got the puck back over to him on the right side. Murray made it over again in time to stop the shot and then maintained his composure to stonewall Benn’s attempt at cleaning up the mess.
“We created enough offense tonight to score three or four and most nights when we’ve done that, we have scored three or four,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t tonight and you have to give their guy some credit for that.”
The Stars have put forth some thrilling late-game comebacks this season but after this failed sequence, the possibility of another one in the last 20 minutes felt bleak.
Moment No. 1: Kiviranta’s solo breakaway
Early in the second period, the Maple Leafs were on the power play. This could also qualify as a sequence for the Stars because before getting to the moment because they dodged a bullet when Tavares was unable to cleanly receive the pass from Matthews. Had the pass connected, the moment would have never happened because Tavares was staring at a wide-open cage.
Instead, the shot misfired and the puck took a Stars bounce around the wall. Kiviranta was in the right place and had a breakaway, with nobody between himself and Murray. Kiviranta ended up in the net but the puck did not.
Moment No. 2: Suter’s turnovers
The reason the Stars were still trying to crack the scoreboard in that 5-on-3 sequence is that they had already failed on another big sequence earlier in the second period. About six minutes into the frame, they had a four-minute power play after Pierre Engvall went to the box for four minutes after high-sticking Robertson.
The first two minutes of the power play were fine, though the Stars were unable to score. Then, they lost an entire minute because of back-to-back bad turnovers by Ryan Suter in their own zone.
Suter was replaced on a later power play by Nils Lundkvist, who was back in the lineup after three games as a healthy scratch.
“We’ve talked about that a little bit,” DeBoer said of subbing Lundkvist in for Suter at the point. “We tried him on the flank early in the season. I think his skill set is better suited for being up top. It’s a long season. Sutes is a very valuable guy for us but he’s not 20 years old anymore and he can’t play 25 or 28 minutes and in every situation so it’s another option for us there with the second unit, if Sutes’ minutes get too high and we need him in other areas.”
Toronto’s first goal
There has been a troublesome trend that has started to show up for the Stars: their inability to clear out traffic in front of their own net. This showed up a couple of times on Tuesday, the first being on the first goal when a Marner shot landed in front of Jake Oettinger and Tavares beat everybody in green to the puck and slammed it home.
Toronto’s third goal
If net-front play was an issue on the first goal, it was multiplied on the Maple Leafs’ third goal. The Stars prevented the Leafs from scoring on multiple attempts but the puck eventually kicked out a bit and Sandin was able to beat Oettinger off the blocker.
“The ones we gave up, I’d like to look at,” DeBoer said. “You always want to defend a little bit better. There were a couple there where we either skated by coverage or lost a battle in front of the net, things like that. You can always defend better.”
Toronto’s second goal
The second Leafs’ goal was perhaps the most inexplicable. Matthews is an all-world player, and particularly an all-world goal-scorer. The first culprit on the play was Jani Hakanpaa, who had the puck before Matthews just took his lunch. Matthews then walked his way to Oettinger but his shot rang off the post. The puck bounced right back to the area where Matthews was. Denis Gurianov skated aimlessly behind Matthews and Luke Glendening played the outside option, leaving a lane for one of the best goal-scorers in the world to get a great look at the net.
(Photo of Toronto goaltender Matt Murray covering the puck as Dallas’ Jason Robertson tries to poke it past him: Jerome Miron / USA Today)