While the Toronto Maple Leafs will feel they should be in a position to sweep the Western road swing after a third-period collapse against Calgary, they can still make it a three-out-of-four success with a win tonight in Edmonton (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
The Oilers got off to the start they wanted this year — they won their first five games and hadn’t lost more than two in a row until this past Thursday when they lost 6-5 to Minnesota to drop them to 0-2-1 in their last three. The Pacific Division looks like it’ll be a bit of a crapshoot this season, but it doesn’t lack talent, so the Oilers will have to keep losing streaks at bay with both the streaking Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights right on their tail.
The dominance of Edmonton’s two young stars — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — goes back multiple seasons now, but you still have to marvel at just how dominant they are and how much ice time the Oilers coaching staff, rightfully, loads them up with.
McDavid and Draisaitl have 57 and 55 points, respectively, while James Neal and Zach Kassian sit third on the team at 22 points each. On the power play, they have 25 and 22 points, respectively, while James Neal is third at 14, including an impressive team-leading ten powerplay goals.
Speaking of the man advantage, it’s been a massive part of the Oilers’ success this year, underscoring the importance of staying out of the box tonight. They produce the highest rate of expected goals at 5-on-4 in the NHL while also averaging the second-most shots from the slot. Their 5-on-4 Sh% of 20.8% is also league-leading at over three percent better than the second-place Lightning — the league average is just below 13%. There is no doubting the talent on the top unit, but it would be a little surprising if that held up over 82 games.
Anticipating Trevor Moore’s return from injury, Nic Petan was loaned to the Marlies once again. Petan has struggled to produce positive on-ice numbers offensively despite playing against very weak competition, though he hasn’t dragged his teammates down by any means. Defensively, he sits 7th on the team is relative xGA/60, allowing .2 fewer goals per hour than his teammates. That figure isn’t bad, especially considering he’s only started 34.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone this year, but he hasn’t really impacted enough games or brought the energy lift you’re looking for down the lineup.
For the time being, it’s Frederik Gauthier who will find his way back into the lineup after four games in the press box, while Dmytro Timashov has now been scratched the last three games. With Petan down and Trevor Moore unable to return just yet, it’s unclear if it will be Timashov returning to the lineup or if Pontus Aberg will remain on the bottom line. It appears Jason Spezza and Pierre Engvall are two players that have permanent lineup spots under Sheldon Keefe, partially helped by their special teams contributions. The production of the Matthews and Tavares lines has been there of late, but they need more of their depth group — at a minimum, a little bit more energy and a few more ice-tilting shifts.
The goaltending matchup tonight will be Frederik Andersen (15-8-3, .918 Sv%, 3.3 GSAx) vs. Mikko Koskinen (11-4-2, .914 Sv%, 1.22 GASx). Both goalies have been heavily relied upon by their respective teams at times this season as a result of leakiness defensively at 5v5, and whether this game goes the way of a shootout tonight will depend a lot on how the two netminders fare between the pipes.
Game Day Quotes
Leon Draisaitl on the Oilers’ expectations this season:
We are building a culture in here where we don’t want to be a losing team anymore. We want to win. We want to end losing streaks as quickly as possible. I think it is the first time it has gotten to three for us this year. It is something that we want to turn around starting tonight.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett on the team’s leakiness defensively of late:
We aren’t giving up a lot of chances, but the ones that we are have been real good ones. I look at the game [versus Minnesota] and there is some thinking. There are ones we can just take out our game just by managing the game a little bitter, and there are other ones that are just missed assignments. We can address both of those.
Sheldon Keefe on handling the Oilers and their transition game:
We just want to continue the things that we’ve done well and put ourselves in a spot where we can play with the lead again and grow in that area. You mentioned the transitional stuff — that’s an area that’s going to be real important today. This will be the best transitional team that we’ve played on this trip. Obviously, they’ve got dangerous people that we want to be aware of, so it’ll be a challenge for us. The difference is not just on the defensive piece but those transition pieces — that’s when you have the puck. You have the puck and all of a sudden it changes hands, you’ve got to put yourself in a defensive spot quickly and that’s our challenge today.
Keefe on getting Timashov back in the lineup:
Those guys — both he and Gauthier — we just want them to get back to playing the way that they were. Those guys were doing fine for us when they were in. Like I’ve said a number of times, we just wanted to give ourselves a different look and see different people. We gave Petan and Aberg a chance to see what they were going to be like for us and now with Goat and Timashov, we expect them to go right back at it.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#88 William Nylander – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Pontus Aberg
Injured: Andreas Johnsson
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#29 Leon Draisaitl – #97 Connor McDavid – #44 Zach Kassian
#60 Markus Granlund – #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #39 Alex Chiasson
#18 James Neal – #91 Gaetan Haas – #89 Sam Gagner
#16 Jujhar Khaira – #23 Riley Sheahan – #15 Josh Archibald
#25 Darnell Nurse – #74 Ethan Bear
#77 Oscar Klefbom – #6 Adam Larsson
#4 Kris Russell – #82 Caleb Jones
#19 Mikko Koskinen (starter)
#41 Mike Smith