This is one I've had circled on my calendar. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Dallas Cowboys of Canada, make a rare appearance at the AAC tonight in what should be an extremely entertaining game.
Niklas Hagman makes his return to the AAC for the first time since signing with Toronto as a free agent. Hagman was a key member of the Dallas Stars playoff team in 2008, having a breakout season with 27 goals and 41 points. He had a hat trick in Monday's big 6-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks, which came a week after Hagman was a healthy scratch for the first time since playing for the Florida Panthers.
To make this game even more interesting, Jonas Gustavsson will be in net for the Leafs. You may remember him; the Stars were in the running for his services this season, and watched free agent goaltenders get signed while Gustavsson stalled on his decision. In the end it all worked out; the Stars landed Alex Auld in a brillaint trade and Gustavsson seems poised to take over the starting goaltending job in Toronto.
After the jump, a Q & A with Pension Plan Puppets...
The Dallas Stars:
A little shake up today, as the Stars held their morning skate in Frisco in an effort to get better ready for a home game. So far this season Dallas is 1-2-1 at home and has looked halfway decent in only one game in front of their home crowd.
Matt Niskanen will play, but Mike Modano is sitting this one and is hopeful to play Friday.
Mike Heika takes a stab at the lines for tonight:
Hmm. Looks a lot like what I predicted earlier today (actually, I just copied the line combos from the last game Wathier played in).
The Toronto Maple Leafs:
Here's a Q & A I did with Pension Plan Puppets. You can find my side of the interview here.
In the offseason, a lot Stars fans might have become jealous with the amount of moves Brian Burke was making for the Leafs, while Dallas stayed relatively quiet. What's gone wrong that the Leafs have struggled so mightily?
It's a situation that you guys might be familiar with: Crappy Goalieitis. Unfortunately, despite a couple of major off-season surgeries, a long recovery period, and the threat of competition Vesa Toskala came out and did nothing more than put an exclamation point on the belief that he is washed up. Couple that with Jonas Gustavsson's heart issues and tweaked groin and the Leafs' goaltending has been suspect.
The defence has three new members most nights and the lack of chemistry due to a compressed pre-season schedule hasn't helped. Of course, the nerves caused by wondering if every shot is going in has contributed as well.
But at the end of the day, it all starts in goal. Once that's settled down the team will as well.
Let's just say that Toronto's goaltending so far this season has been......a bit off. With Jonas Gustavsson returning to the ice, should fans expect this area to improve drastically or is it much to early to hope he can be their savior in net?
Even by being mediocre by league standards he would be a drastic improvement. If he's tending goal at .900 that's already a huge jump over Toskala's .812 or whatever low sv% Joey MacDonald had before the game against the Canucks.
It's hard to say what Gustavsson will do because even though he had great numbers before coming over from the SEL so did Mikael Tellqvist (ouch). From what we have seen though he definitely makes good use of his big body. He doesn't struggle with traffic, he challenges shooters, and he has made a couple of ridiculous pad saves. He has a habit of getting a bit out of position but that's what Francois Allaire is supposed to improve.
How jealous should Dallas fans be that Nik Hagman got away?
Very. We love him. He'll likely go into the books at Fletcher's best signing during his second go-around. For $3M/year and four years the Leafs have a player that is the definition of the 'model professional'. Last year he was on pace to put up about 50+ points before Brendan Witt scrambled his brains with an absolutely brutal elbow to the head. He has the skill to play on any team's top six forwards but combines that with the kind of effort that third and fourth liners would be well advised to replicate.
Also, he has a smoking hot wife so you'll miss seeing her at games.
Here's the projected line combos for tonight:
Ponikarovsky Grabovski Blake
Stalberg Stajan Stempniak
Kulemin Mitchell Hagman
Primeau Wallin Orr
Dallas: D Matt Niskanen is probable. RW Jere Lehtinen (intercostal muscle) and C Mike Modano (ribs) are out.
Toronto: G Vesa Toskala (knee) is doubtful. RW Phil Kessel, D Mike Van Ryn (knee) and D Jamie Heward (concussion) are out.