Winners of four consecutive against the Oilers and three straight overall, the PDO tides are finally starting to turn for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a chance to build on their divisional lead in the final game of the season series tonight against Edmonton (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario & West).
Outside of their goaltending situation, the most fluid situation about this Leafs team right now continues to be the shuffling among the forward lines, both between games and within games. To begin Saturday’s game, Keefe wanted to balance matchups against a loaded Draisaitl-McDavid-Puljujarvi trio between the Pierre Engvall-centred ‘HEM’ line and the Auston Matthews line, but when the former trio had a couple of tough shifts and gave up a goal, Zach Hyman was quickly moved back to the top line with the team trailing.
While coaches can obsessively pursue matchups to their own detriment at times, this is arguably the type of situation where essentially concerning yourself with one line is the way to go. We saw last game just how quickly McDavid and Draisaitl can turn a game on its head. It doesn’t take much for them to score, which is why Keefe moved away from the ‘HEM’ line vs. McDavid line as the game went on — it’s easier to hope that your best players go head-to-head and hog the puck from them/out-score them rather than rely on diligent checking from your third line to keep it scoreless in the matchup.
A more straight-up power-on-power matchup with Hyman next to Matthews also creates the domino effect of getting John Tavares’ line more ice time (both Tavares and William Nylander played less than Joe Thornton at five-on-five and on the power play on Saturday). That line, alongside Alex Galchenyuk, at least early in his Leafs tenure, appears to be building something together.
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While Frederik Andersen continues to work through an injury, adding to the concern level in goal is that Jack Campbell is still battling an injury nuisance. He was given the whole day off yesterday, and it will be a game-time-decision tonight if he dresses or not. Either way, Michael Hutchinson has been confirmed as the starter.
That news won’t go over well with Leafs fans after Hutchinson’s tough early exit in his last start where he gave up two weak goals in only six minutes against the Senators, but we’ll see if the Leafs can play a disciplined and committed defensive game in order to support him better than the last time out. Hutchinson, over his last two seasons, is 8-11-1 with a .899 save percentage and a GSAx of -7.4. One of those wins is a shutout victory over the Oilers amid the Leafs’ three-game sweep in Edmonton earlier this month.
For the Oilers, it will once again be Mike Smith starting in goal. Smith likely isn’t a fan of the Maple Leafs at the moment given three of his four losses this season have come against the Maple Leafs, including the OT loss on Saturday that came in spite of the herculean efforts from the 39-year-old goaltender. Smith is 11-3-1 on the season with a .918 Sv% and a GSAx of 2.3.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the reasons for giving Michael Hutchinson the start tonight:
We’ve got to be really smart with how we manage Jack’s workload here. The reality is that he hasn’t been playing at 100% and the games take a toll on him. The combination of the fact that he’s not used to playing multiple games in a row and the fact that his body hasn’t quite cooperated with him the way he’d like to this season, we’ve got to be really smart.
He took the day [off] yesterday because he wasn’t feeling the best coming off the game. I think he’s feeling better today and that’s positive — I just think us continuing to roll him out there when he’s not 100% is not smart so we’ve got to manage it.
Keefe on coaching against McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line:
It changes a little bit just in terms of the matchup — you’re a little more concerned about the [it]. Obviously, it’s harder to match against them when they’re on separate lines. That said, when they are together, you can control the matchup a little bit more when you make a mistake.
We looked at it different ways — between the Matthews [line] and Engvall [line], we tried to get that matchup going, but the difficulty is they play so much and it has the ability to really disrupt your own flow. You kind of worry about that matchup and lose to flow with your own bench. I’ve got to manage that here tonight, but there’s certainly more hype, awareness, and narrow focus when they’re together.
Like I said, when you’ve got him together you’re worried about that one mistake — it’s much more dangerous. It’s also not overly comforting when one of them leaves the ice and the other comes out.
Keefe on moving Hyman back to Matthews’ line to go up against McDavid’s line:
Yeah, that was part of it. I thought I was going to get away from [the Engvall line] matchup more and just generally knew that I was going to play the Matthews line that much more and wanted Hyman to be a part of that.
Dave Tippett on Saturday’s game:
We gave up too many chances the whole game. It wasn’t just the third period. They capitalized on the one in the third period. They got a break on the third goal to tie it up. I didn’t think we played as well as we needed to the whole game. Smith was excellent in goal. We’re going to need to be better tonight if we expect to win.
Tippett on how his team’s unplanned week off affected them:
You hope you got some rest. [But] you can never, no matter how hard you practice, [get] to the competitive levels that match a game. Those are the things you hope are in place as soon as you get going. I thought we were a little bit slow to react and our puck play was a little slow, especially in the first period. You could tell we hadn’t played in a little bit.
It’s just human nature. You can’t get yourself to the competitive level you want to. When you miss a week, you’ve got to work to get it back. As the game went on, we got a little better — the second period was better. There’s still another level we’ve got to get to.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#97 Joe Thornton – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#35 Veini Vehviläinen
Extras: Martin Marincin, Alexander Barabanov, Calle Rosen, Nick Robertson, Jack Campbell
Injured: Frederik Andersen
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#29 Leon Draisaitl – #97 Connor McDavid – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#21 Dominik Kahun – #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#63 Tyler Ennis – #91 Gaetan Haas – #44 Zack Kassian
#14 Devin Shore – #16 Jujhar Khaira – #15 Josh Archibald
#25 Darnell Nurse – #22 Tyson Barrie
#84 William Lagesson– #6 Adam Larsson
#4 Kris Russell – #74 Ethan Bear
#41 Mike Smith (starter)
#19 Mikko Koskinen
Injured: Slater Koekkoek, Oscar Kelfbom