As the Oilers look to make it five wins in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs will try to bounce back from a poor effort in Vancouver by taking care of business in Edmonton on Hockey Night in Canada (7 p.m EST, CBC).
After reaching a low point through January and February where they went 1-8-3 and looked to be packing it in after another rough season, the Oilers have won six of eight games while generating shots and chances at a much better rate than they did through the majority of the last few months. With their winning streak, the Oilers have just barely kept themselves in the playoff race, though: They’re seven points behind the Wild — who own the second wildcard spot — with two games in hand. Arizona and Colorado are both ahead of them in the battle for that spot, which leaves Edmonton with just a 7.8% chance at making the post-season, per moneypuck.com, and a much better chance of spoiling their draft pick.
When the Leafs and Oilers played last week, the Leafs were working towards a 50% probability of home-ice advantage in round one (44.2%). Since then, Boston has sustained their insane pace by winning another four in a row after their five-game streak came to an end. Combined with the dropped points to the Islanders and Canucks, that leaves Toronto’s chances at home-ice advantage at 28.6% entering tonight. Despite putting together a top-five season league-wide so far, the Leafs are in a position within the Atlantic Division where they’ll likely need a very strong finish to the year to start the postseason at home.
As far as lineup changes for tonight, it seemed like the Ennis-Petan-Moore line would be the first to go if they had a bad game on Wednesday, and that’s exactly what’s transpired. The line struggled in a game the Leafs weren’t great as a whole from the get-go. The change can definitely be justified — especially considering Petan’s has only been with the team for a couple of weeks and hasn’t played many NHL games this year — but it’s clear certain combinations have a much shorter shelf life if they don’t agree with the coach’s preconceived notions, regardless of the results (the Matthews line hasn’t been as good as it should be for quite some time, for example). With all that said, if Gauthier is ready to go tonight (he’ll be a game-time decision with an illness), then he goes back in at center in place of Nic Petan.
Nazem Kadri’s return from a concussion means someone has to sit, and based on yesterday’s practice, it might be Trevor Moore who will be the odd man out. There’s a bit of a rotation going on right now with the bottom of the lineup, which in one sense is fair as they give these players game reps and evaluate line combinations ahead of the playoffs. On the other hand, Moore has been consistently excellent since his most recent callup and he’s clearly been a shot in the arm that has brought that fourth line back to life. Time will tell if Moore does indeed sit out tonight.
In net, Frederik Andersen starts tonight after Babcock admitted his ’56 starts’ goal for the Leafs netminder was a case of him misspeaking, adding that around 60 starts was more the workload that they were aiming for. The Leafs have 14 games remaining after tonight including three back-to-backs; if Andersen played all but the second halves of those B2Bs, he’d finish at 61 starts at the end of the season. The Leafs could work in extra rest in the final few games of the season depending on the situation in the standings as far as home ice goes.
At the other end of the ice, Mikko Koskinen is expected to start for the Oilers after winning four in a row — something Oilers management will be relieved to see after the controversial contract they handed out to him pre-Chiarelli firing. As unnecessary as the deal was and likely still is, Koskinen does now have a .912 save percentage in 42 games this year and has averaged 4.49 goals saved above expected, which ranks 9th among regular goalies.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on getting Kadri back:
Well, obviously he brings lots of things, he’s a good hockey player. He’s real good on the powerplay, real good even strength, he’s mean and doesn’t mind getting in on the forecheck. It gives us much more depth down the middle and gives us a better defensive hockey club. All in all it gives us more depth and a better team.
Just retrieval races and those plays in tight. He makes real good plays for you getting it back on the powerplay, very important for you.
Babcock on preparing for the Oilers:
Well, I think anytime you’re playing good players you’ve got to give them as little room as you can and as few touches as possible. We were able to do that after the first period [last game vs. Oilers], that’ll be a priority again tonight. Draisaitl was really strong against us as well, and just looking at their roster, those are priorities. Nugent-Hopkins is a high-end player as well.
Babcock on the team’s road record:
I think some years it just goes like that. We feel comfortable on the road. It’s like anything, you want to win every night as you prepare that way. If you think you can, we’ve got enough depth to do it. Let’s just make sure we’re prepared.
Babcock on putting Nylander back with Matthews:
The big thing for him and for all of us is just compete on a high level individually and collectively we’ll have a chance to make a decision on who should play with who. Right now I’m happy with [the Matthews line], I think they can play better, but I like their line.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#63 Tyler Ennis – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder)
Scratched: Nic Petan, Justin Holl, Trevor Moore*
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #44 Zach Kassian
#39 Alex Chiasson – #87 Leon Draisaitl – #89 Sam Gagner
#27 Milan Lucic – #12 Colby Cave – #43 Josh Currie
#22 Tobias Rieder – #28 Kyle Brodziak – #16 Jujhar Khaira
#77 Oscar Klefbom – #6 Adam Larsson
#25 Darnell Nurse – #4 Kris Russell
#2 Andrej Sekera – #83 Matt Benning
#19 Mikko Koskinen
#32 Anthony Stolarz
Injured: Jesse Puljujarvi