Coming off of one of their most complete performances of the season, the Maple Leafs have an opportunity to further pad their divisional lead in round two-of-three of the Toronto vs. Edmonton mini-series (10 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The Maple Leafs currently hold a six-point lead over the Oilers in the North Division with a game in hand. The Winnipeg Jets, who have played three fewer games than Edmonton, have the second-best record in the division with a points percentage of .675 to the Oilers’ .609.
The Leafs currently lead the NHL with a PTS% of .773 (16-4-2 record), tying their franchise points record through 22 games. In 103 seasons as a franchise, Toronto has never finished with a PTS% higher than 70%. In this shortened, division-only schedule, they will, at minimum, have a shot at eclipsing that mark for the first time. The only other Canadian teams to not have a season above .700 in franchise history: The Jets and Senators, the two youngest franchises in Canada.
In lineup news, there will be a few unanswered questions until closer to game time. Auston Matthews, who missed Saturday’s game but has remained with the team and has been practicing, is a ‘game-time decision’. Given the injury appears to be to Mattews’ hand/wrist, the team could be taking extra precautions to keep him out longer:
Matthews didn't look to be taking many hard shots at practice yesterday either.
He is still a game-time decision for tonight. https://t.co/RVzUU4E0eY
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 1, 2021
With Matthews absent in the last game, there were some impressive performances from further down the depth chart. After sitting out games and receiving limited ice time early in the season, Pierre Engvall has stepped up on a line with Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev. It was telling that when Joe Thornton missed last Wednesday’s game with an injury, the coaching staff decided to move Alex Kerfoot into Thornton’s spot and leave Engvall to center the more defensively-deployed line with Ilya Mikheyev — a sign Engvall has come along way as far as earning Sheldon Keefe’s trust. In 61 games in the NHL, Engvall ranks fourth among current Leafs forwards on the defensive side of evolving-hockey’s goals-above-replacement model. He also ranks slightly above a replacement-level player offensively.
The ‘HEM’ line generated an extended heavy shift that pinned Connor McDavid in his own zone for over a minute on Saturday:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) February 28, 2021
All three Leafs even-strength goals were scored with the Oilers’ top line on the ice, including Zach Hyman’s 4-0 goal in the third period.
McDavid has yet to be held off the scoresheet for more than one game in a row this season, but even if the Leafs can’t repeat the feat, the hope will be to limit him as best they can with a similar formula to Saturday night’s: stay out of the penalty box, stay above McDavid, slow him down through the neutral zone as a five-man unit, and count on strong goaltending when needed.
On that note, Toronto’s goaltending situation is as uncertain as it gets for tonight. Firstly, Jack Campbell, who earned a shutout on Saturday, missed practice yesterday and did not participate in the optional skate today. Frederik Andersen practiced for an extended period this morning, meaning he’s likely not preparing himself to play tonight. That leaves the Leafs’ third-stringer Michael Hutchinson, who was in the starter’s net in practice today, as the most likely of the three to dress. However, there will be no decision made on the starter — or the backup for that matter — until closer to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
After losing his first game in six starts, Mike Smith will return to the bench and Mikko Koskinen will start for the Oilers. The 32-year-old Koskinen is 3-2 in his last five starts with a .914 Sv%.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on Zach Bogosian’s progression this season:
I thought that in the early going, you could tell he was still adjusting to be here in our system and in his role, but I think, for quite some time now, he’s really settled in and he’s provided what we thought and expected to get [from him]. [He’s] been a reliable defender who has brought a level of physicality to our defensive group.
He’s a reliable penalty killer and just a great personality — a great person who’s added to the leadership of our team with the experience he has in the league. Of course, coming off of a Stanley Cup win and all those types of things, he’s definitely brought a lot.
Keefe on Mitch Marner’s dominance this season:
Mitch is a very good player in both ends of the ice, first of all. When you’re looking and linemates and teammates, [the first thing is] do you do your job? Are you reliable in that? Mitch certainly is.
If someone makes a mistake, can you make up for it through effort or intelligence? Mitch has both.
Of course, when he has the puck, the way he sees it — if you get open, he finds you and creates his own space. That’s really what good players do. It comes back around, the chemistry he and Auston have shown this season along with Joe.
Keefe on T.J Brodie’s consistent impact this season:
I like that he just doesn’t care who he’s playing against. It doesn’t rattle him, it doesn’t concern him. He’s comfortable in his own game and realizes that he’s got to stay within his skill set and do what works for him.
He does it differently than other players, and that’s part of what’s made him successful in the league. The other part of it is, even if he gets beat or makes a mistake, he’s just going to go back and drink some water and give it his best shot the next time out. It more often than not works out for him. That’s why he is who he is in the league.
Keefe on the importance of Pierre Engvall and his growing role:
With Pierre, we see great potential there. We’ve seen it before — I saw it with the Marlies, and I saw it last season at different points when he played for us. He didn’t start the [play-in] series against Columbus, but he came in and played down the middle and did a really nice job for us on that fourth line.
We knew, and I knew, he was going to be an important piece for our team here this season. We’ve made things harder on him to earn that opportunity, mainly because I just feel like a player with his skillset, size, speed, physicality and the potential he has — I don’t even know if he realizes how good he can be. We didn’t want to hand him anything. He needed to work at it and he needed to understand that there are areas of his game he can continue to get better at.
Even in the game the other night, I thought he did a terrific job and that line was excellent. There’s still a number of things in his game that show me room for growth and improvement. That’s exciting for me as a coach and for us as a team. It should be exciting for him as well.
We gave him a slower start to this season here and created some adversity for him to really try to get the absolute best out of him when his opportunity came, which, for me, was inevitable.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett on adapting to different play styles within the division:
There’s situations in each game that dictate [what happens]. You’re on transition, you get openings — if you’re [playing against] structure, real tight structure, you have to read and react. That’s just part of the game. It goes both ways.
Tippett on the baseball-style schedule this season:
You go into the series and you do a little pre-scout, but you make adjustments as you go along each game. It’s a unique situation; it’s more like a playoff-style mentality. I think the players enjoy it. I think they like having the ability to get into a kind of mini-series and get ingrained in it and know who you’re playing against to make those subtle adjustments that happen in a series.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#97 Joe Thornton – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #11 Zach Hyman
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #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
#30 Michael Hutchinson
#60 Joseph Woll
Injured: Wayne Simmonds, Frederik Andersen, Auston Matthews, Jack Campbell
Extras: Kenny Agostino, Scott Sabourin, Nic Petan, Timothy Liljegren, Mikko Lehtonen
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#21 Dominik Kahun – #29 Leon Draisaitl – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#63 Tyler Ennis – #16 Jujhar Khaira – #15 Josh Archibald
#52 Patrick Russell – #91 Gaetan Haas – #39 Alex Chiasson
#25 Darnell Nurse – #22 Tyson Barrie
#82 Caleb Jones – #6 Adam Larsson
#75 Evan Bouchard – #74 Ethan Bear
#19 Mikko Koskinen (starter)
#41 Mike Smith
Injured: Oscar Klefbom, Zach Kassian, Slater Koekkoek, William Lagesson