Following a few disappointing results with back to back losses to the lowly Arizona Coyotes and than to the Buffalo Sabres in the Heritage Classic game outdoors at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, the Toronto Maple Leafs were looking to rebound in a big way.
Tuesday evening saw the Dallas Stars head North of the border to visit the Leafs for the first time since 2020, as they also looked to get back to winning ways, losing their previous two games.
A running theme going into the night would be that it was a game of “firsts”. The game would mark the first time both Nick and Jason Robertson would face off against each other. Nick, a 20-year-old rookie forward, was drafted by Toronto 53rd overall in the 2019 NHL entry draft and had only played 13 games going into the evening.
His brother Jason on the other hand has been one of the Star’s brightest forwards all season. Jason is in his second full NHL season, after being drafted by Dallas with the 39th pick in 2017, he is only continuing to impress with every passing game.
With a 17 goal, 45 point rookie campaign last season, Jason has exploded this season with 30 goals and 55 points so far, leading the team in goals and trailing the team lead in points by only five.
Another first would see the Leafs send out Erik Kallgren for his first NHL start, after seeing minutes in Thursday’s OT loss to the Coyotes where he came in to relieve Petr Mrazek after a woeful performance.
Kallgren was a former seventh round pick of the Coyotes but has spent most of his time playing overseas in Sweden and was signed as a Free Agent over the offseason from his team Vaxjo HC where he has played with the AHL’s Marlies picking up a 15-8-1 record with the farm team.
The final first of the evening was one that many Leaf fans hold resentment over as it would mark Auston Matthews first game serving a two game suspension following a illegal cross-check to the head of Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin.
Toronto would look to their captain John Tavares to assume the first line centre spot in between Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting, as he would need to fill some pretty large shoes in the star centre’s absence.
Tavares would fill them very quickly as he would drive the puck into the Stars zone a little under halfway through the first period, before dropping a pass to Marner whom he is very familiar with following a 47 goal debut campaign with the Leafs in 2018-19 that saw the two on the same line for most of the season.
Marner found young Leaf defenceman Rasmus Sandin streaking in from the blueline, as he took the puck to the net and put a backhand shot past Stars goalie Jake Oettinger for his fifth goal of the season.
Tavares wasn’t done however as he won a hard fought face-off in the Stars zone where the puck would find the Leafs other Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren who found his countryman William Nylander open at the blueline and fired it on net before a nifty deflection off of Tavares’ stick went through Oettinger’s legs and into the net for his 20th goal of the season.
Both teams would continue to pile on the pressure in the second period but no team would be able to find the back of the net until early in the third period.
Roope Hintz took a hooking call with just a little over a minute left in the second period sending Toronto on a broken power play that carried into the final frame. With only a couple of seconds left with the man advantage Ondrej Kase ripped home a one-timer in the slot for his 13th of the season.
It would be a travesty if some props wasn’t send Jake Oettinger’s way as he had to play a great game opposite Kallgren, making some stunning saves on the Leafs to limit the damage, including this desperation save on a Nylander deflection just in front of his net.
Oettinger would go on to make 36 saves in the loss.
Toronto would limit the rest of the Dallas attack for the rest of the third period as Ilya Mikheyev added an empty net tally at the end of the frame as the young Leafs net-minder became just the fourth goalie in Maple Leafs history to record a shutout his first career start, making 35 saves in the process, and the first since Garett Sparks did it in 2015.
Scotiabank Arena was on its feet at the end of the game, sending praise and love to the young netminder, as he received first star honours and a praise from his teammates.
With regular starter Jack Campbell out for at least the rest of this week with a rib injury, and also a previous sample size of less than stellar performances as well as Petr Mrazek perhaps having even worse starts lately, the question now comes down to Leafs management on how to resolve their goaltending situation just a week out from the trade deadline.
Toronto will look to build on this performance on Thursday when the Carolina Hurricanes come to town, as Dallas will look to get out of their three game losing streak when they head to Montreal on Thursday to take on the Habs.