Maple Leafs look for more progress vs. Stars

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took a significant step forward in their bid to distance themselves from a recent porous stretch.

The Maple Leafs aim to continue their forward progress on Wednesday when they visit the Dallas Stars.

Toronto skated into the league-mandated break and All-Star festivities with just one win in six outings (1-3-2) before posting a 5-2 victory in Nashville on Monday.

“Just a good response. Coming out a break can be difficult games and I thought it was a good match for our team,” veteran forward Jason Spezza said. “Coming out and getting a lead, I thought we controlled play for a lot of the time. I still think there are still things we can do better but for the most part we did a lot of good things and that’s why we got rewarded with a win.”

Spezza will enter the tilt against his former team with a bit of momentum after scoring in the third period versus the Predators. The 36-year-old spent five seasons with the Stars before signing a one-year contract on July 1.

William Nylander, who signed a six-year, $45 million deal in December 2018, scored early in the first period on Monday to extend both his goal and point streaks to four and five, respectively. The goal was the career-high 23rd of the season for the 23-year-old Nylander, who recorded his 11th multi-point performance after setting up defenseman Rasmus Sandin’s first NHL tally.

Auston Matthews boosted his team-leading totals in goals (34) and points (58) with his 16th tally in 16 games this month on Monday. The 22-year-old has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 11 contests this season versus Central Division representatives.

Matthews scored two goals in Toronto’s 7-4 victory in Dallas on Oct. 9, 2018 before the Stars answered with a 2-1 decision three weeks later.

Dallas captain Jamie Benn scored a goal in both of those games and capped a two-goal performance by converting in overtime of a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday.

“I think Jamie did a great job of being composed on both goals and hanging on to it until just the right second before putting it behind him,” Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. “That’s a mental skill. The physical skill you can see, but the mental side of that, being able to calm the brain down and slow it down so that the hands can work at the right time, that’s what makes special athletes.”

Benn wasn’t interested in his performance on offense. After all, the Stars’ bread and butter is their defense, which has yielded an NHL-best 2.45 goals per game.

“I think that’s pretty much our game,” the 30-year-old Benn said. “We want to play good defense and we are committed to keeping the puck out of our net, and that was a good example of it (Monday).”

Tyler Seguin, who leads the team in assists (26) and points (37), added to those totals by setting up Denis Gurianov’s second-period goal on Monday. The 27-year-old Seguin erupted for six points (one goal, five assists) in two meetings with Toronto last season.

–Field Level Media

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