The Leafs face off against their third consecutive Western Conference opponent as Dallas Eakins, Keith and son Will Acton, and Mike Brown return to town on Hockey Night in Canada.
Edmonton is in a familiar place to start the season – last in the West. The Oilers have conceded at a 4.75 GA rate over their first four games, coming off of losses to Winnipeg and Vancouver by scores of 5-4 and 6-2. There is little mystery as to where this Edmonton team is dangerous (oodles of young offensive talent) and where they’re brittle (team defense/goaltending). It’s safe to say Eakins’ efforts to infuse some defensive structure and responsibility into the Oilers’ game are still very much in the work-in-progress stage.
Eakins will, however, have a pretty intimate understanding of the Leafs systems under Carlyle, which he worked to replicate on the Marlies team last season. Interestingly, before the season Eakins stated an intention to revamp the team’s defensive zone 5-on-5 systems to incorporate the collapsing system we’ve become familiar with under Carlyle. It seems Eakins assesses the Oilers, not unlike the the Leafs last season under Carlyle (at least in terms of team makeup), as having some strong offensive weapons and some capable puck moving defencemen, but lacking in big centermen and a strong shutdown capability to the defence. Ample support for the defence and goaltenders is going to have to come to fruition for the Oilers if they’re to take any sort of step forward this season.
The Leafs are rolling into tonight with a 4-1 record. If they haven’t always been convincing, Jonathan Bernier has, and the Leafs special teams have been excellent at both ends. The Leafs played a good game in Nashville save the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period. Those extended spells of no shots by the Leafs can certainly be frustrating to watch, but the Leafs have too much talent up front to be kept quiet for too long; in that regard, Edmonton should be ripe for the picking.
The best part about the Leafs’ 4-1 start, for me, is that I think the Leafs have plenty room for improvement. Offensively, their top 9 will be deadly once they get Kulemin and Clarkson back (more on that below). Defensively, there are some promising signs that the Leafs’ backend may start to turn potential into reality. Morgan Rielly won’t go without error as a 19-year-old cutting his teeth on an NHL blueline, but he’s looking heady beyond his years and is not shying away from physical contact (which he can handle, with a thick build for a teenager). Paul Ranger has been improving in recent games and put together his best performance of the young season in Nashville; his pairing alongside Jake Gardiner may be smoothing out the edges and establishing some chemistry. Chemistry may also be forming between Rielly and Cody Franson, who have both expressed an enjoyment for playing together, with Franson calling Rielly a “sponge” and Rielly praising Franson’s professionalism.
Tonight’s game will mark the 60% interval of David Clarkson’s time served. 10-game suspensions are pretty long, aren’t they? In any event, 4-1 is a good record no matter who you are, and it’s made the more promising given the absence of Clarkson and Kulemin. Hopefully no significant injuries occur between now and the end of October… who in Leafs Nation isn’t salivating at the prospect of adding Clarkson and Kulemin to the top 9 of this already potent team?
|GF/G||3.2 (11th)||2.75 (16th)|
|GA/G||2.0 (6th)||4.75 (29th)|
|SF/G||31.8 (13th)||29.0 (21st)|
|SA/G||34.8 (26th)||31.0 (18th)|
|PP||28.6% (3rd)||25% (9th)|
|PK||94.4% (3rd)||73.3% (25th)|
|5 on 5 F/A||1.12 (16th)||0.50 (27th)|
Leafs point scoring | Oilers point scoring