It was an odd thing for a NHL coach to admit.
But when asked about dealing with the team speed of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan called it one challenge that would be hard for his team to have an answer for.
“I think most teams can come at us speed-wise,” he said. “We have to work real hard to be pace-y. Toronto’s got their young guys, a lot of them in the lineup right now. … Those young guys move and they work.”
Both teams are off to surprising starts this year, with the Leafs putting up 26 points in their first 22 games and the Stars matching that in one fewer game.
Beyond that, however, these are very different teams that will meet on Friday, with Toronto an average of three years younger and one of the highest scoring teams in the league.
Dallas, meanwhile, is 19th in goals scored, instead relying on good goaltending and opportunistic goals from Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn for many of its wins.
It’s an unusual matchup, one made odder by neither team seeming to know all that much about the other.
“I haven’t really watched them at all this year,” Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur said. “In the past, they’ve always had a tough team to play against.”
“They’ve got a lot of new faces,” teammate Joffrey Lupul said. “When I think Dallas Stars, I’m thinking a lot different guys than are over there. They had that same core group forever – Marty Turco, Mike Modano, Zubov.
“Obviously all those guys are gone now, and they’ve got these new guys. I guess Brenden Morrow’s still there. But their key guys now are young. Guys that we don’t know much about on the East Coast, but that are obviously good players.”
The Leafs will get an education as to who, exactly, these Stars are on Friday before the game in video sessions, but coach Ron Wilson was careful to do some scouting of his own as to the challenge Dallas will present.
After ending a five-game losing skid with a win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, the Stars pulled off a dramatic comeback Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings – a game Wilson was sitting in the press box for with the rest of the Leafs coaching staff.
“That’s a very hardworking team,” Wilson said. “They’re not going to give up in a game… [but] I think we can pretty much control the tempo against any team in this league right now if we bring our A-game. That’s going to be the challenge for us.”
What Toronto should be is well rested. The Leafs spent Thursday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium watching the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins play on U.S. Thanksgiving as part of a unique team-building exercise.
“It’s a game I’m usually sitting on a couch having my third helping of turkey dinner,” Wilson said.
Reimer’s return delayed
Leafs starting netminder James Reimer was on the ice for his first full practice in a month in Dallas, taking shots for roughly an hour while Jonas Gustavsson – who will start against the Stars – and Ben Scrivens shared the other goal.
Wilson said Reimer’s recovery from concussion-like symptoms will keep him out until at least until late next week, with the earliest he would return being Dec. 3 against the Boston Bruins.
“This is a process so let’s not rush it,” Wilson said. “He’s probably 10 days or so away. This is going to be a slow process. When we want him to go in there, we want him to be 100 per cent in terms of stopping the puck.”
“When you get back, you want to be 120 per cent,” Reimer said, one-upping his coach. “I want to come in how I left off. Not kind of feel my way for a couple of games. I want to come back in and start winning again.”