On a three-game win streak coming off of consecutive wins over the Calgary Flames, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now headed north to Edmonton for another mini-series against the 3-5-0 Oilers (10 p.m EST, TSN4).
The Leafs were dominant for stretches within the games against Calgary, although they didn’t manufacture anything approaching a full 60-minute effort and were out-possessed overall, with some of it (although not all of it) owing to score effects. That said, the team has found ways to win games and has shown stretches of really dominant possession play, including impressive periods of shot and scoring chance suppression defensively, despite playing eight games in 14 nights.
Both Joey Anderson and Travis Boyd showed well in their Leaf debuts on Tuesday, and the latter will remain in the lineup tonight. They did not significantly out-possess Derek Ryan’s line, but they still managed to provide some pace, energy, and a key goal. They ended up playing slightly more than Kerfoot’s line at five-on-five, although Kefoot’s linemates were significantly downgraded with Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman moved into the top six.
Boyd will take the center spot on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Alexander Barabanov, the latter of which hasn’t played since Sunday. Pierre Engvall, who set up Boyd’s pretty goal off the rush last game and has been a bright spot since he re-entered the lineup, will sit along with Joey Anderson. It is a bit of a “show me” game for Barabanov especially, as Keefe has been stoking the fires of internal competition within the Leafs roster and reserve squad:
Keefe on bringing back Spezza and Barabanov for fourth line tonight, taking out Engvall and Anderson : " (Tuesday) was the best that line has looked (but) we're still unsure who the right guys are (there)."
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) January 28, 2021
On defense, Travis Dermott will re-enter the lineup as Mikko Lehtonen, who is still showing signs of his adjustment to the league at five on five, sits this one out.
A big part of the Oilers coaching staff’s attention in recent seasons has been on finding players to complement the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl despite the relative lack of high-end wingers made available to them. So far this season, the Oilers have taken a wait and see approach on their top lines, allowing some newer combinations time to gel. Outside the right-winger on McDavid’s flank, Dave Tippett has stuck with two combos since day one: Connor McDavid with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl flanked by Kailer Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun.
The former pair, alongside one of Zach Kassian or Jesse Puljujarvi (tonight it will be Puljujarvi), has done extremely well in their minutes together from a possession perspective. In 104 five-on-five minutes, McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, according to hockeyviz.com‘s environment distiller, have produced an xGoalsFor rate of just under 4.2/60 which puts them 66% above league average. They’ve also managed to possess the puck and play on offense enough to average 16% fewer xGoalsAgainst/60 than league average (2.15), a metric where they struggled last season.
This success has translated into a good start scoring-wise — McDavid has nine even-strength points through eight games (4g3a) and Nugent-Hopkins has four (2g2a). Despite their production together, however, there has been an even split of 5v5 goals in their minutes (five for, five against), as their opposition has scored on 10% of shots on net compared to only 7% for McDavid and RNH.
Draisatil’s line with Kahun and Yamamoto, who have played the vast majority of their eight games together, have scored only three goals and allowed only one at five-on-five. That’s despite a poor share of the quality shots — they’ve produced only 2.09 xGoalsFor/60 and allowed just under three per 60. Compare the shooting percentages, however, and you see why: Like McDavid and RNH, they’ve scored on 7% on their shots on goal but their opponents have shot only 2%.
The Oilers’ power play has its role to play in the team’s 3-5-0 start, as it was a heavily relied-on piece of their regular-season success last season and has been decidedly average early this season in terms of production. They have only five goals on 28 opportunities on the man-advantage, just under 18% efficiency, despite producing both high-danger chances and shots at very similar rates to last season. It didn’t take long for the Oilers coaching staff to sour on former Leaf Tyson Barrie in this area, as Darnell Nurse has taken over for the time being as the power-play quarterback on their top unit.
There’s no reason to expect anything different in goal for Edmonton, who’ve started Mikko Koskinen in every game so far. Frederik Andersen will start for Toronto.
Game Day Quotes
William Nylander on his line’s lack of scoring chances:
Yeah, I think we just haven’t been getting the solid o-zone time we usually do but, for myself, I’ve been looking to pass in situations where I should definitely get a shot on goal. It’s something that I keep in mind — that I’ve got to do better at getting pucks to the net.
After the first shot, we’ve got to get the puck back. I think we’re sagging on the retrievals where they’re able to get the puck out of the zone and we have to start all over again.
Zach Hyman on winning more close games this season:
We’ve played five-on-six a lot more than we have in the past — being in the close, tight games is a big improvement this year. In those games that we’ve won, we’ve had times where we played really well and times where we kind of let off the gas. We need to find the consistency to continue and to finish games out strong and not put ourselves in a position where the opponent is one goal is away, but we’re definitely happy with where we are.
Sheldon Keefe on how the team handled the Oilers defensively last time around:
Well, I thought we did a really good job in the first game, then not as good a job in the second game. We got saves, fortunately, and that’s a big part of it. No matter how good of a job you do, they’re going to get their opportunities. We want to try to reduce those as much as we can by being aware when they’re out there and making sure our structure is really good and they have to come through different layers of players.
Keefe on Boyd and Anderson’s play last game:
I thought he did a real good job for us. [It was] his first game with us and he hasn’t even really had many practice reps with us, either. For [Boyd] to step in the way he did was great; he scored a big goal for us and getting production from that line is a nice bonus to have. He has the ability to do that. He’s scored a lot at different levels and has found a way to produce at a pretty good clip in the NHL in limited time. His structure was really good.
I thought that whole line with Engvall and Anderson was the best I’ve felt about our fourth line to date just from a structure standpoint. They at times defended a little more than we’d like and didn’t have the puck as much, but in terms of structure and detail, they were really good. That’s a really good standard to set for that line.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #72 Travis Boyd – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Adam Brooks, Pierre Engvall, Joey Anderson, Rasmus Sandin, Mikko Lehtonen
Injured: Nick Robertson, Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#21 Dominik Kahun – #29 Leon Draisaitl – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#18 James Neal – #8 Kyle Turris – #44 Zach Kassian
#15 Josh Archibald – #16 Jujhar Khaira – #52 Patrick Russell
#25 Darnell Nurse – #74 Ethan Bear
4 Kris Russell– #22 Tyson Barrie
#82 Caleb Jones – #6 Adam Larsson
#19 Mikko Koskinen (starter)
#50 Stuart Skinner
Extras: Ryan McLeod, Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Alan Quine, Slater Koekkoek, William Lagesson, Evan Bouchard
Injured: Oscar Klefbom, Mike Smith