Ilya Mikheyev (and Brett Seney) will make their season debuts tonight as the Maple Leafs look to add to their impeccable record (8-0-1) of successful visits to Edmonton during the Auston Matthews era (9 p.m. EST, TSN4/Sportsnet West).
The Leafs‘ 17 out of a possible 18 points in their visits to Rogers Place since 2016-17 were underscored by a three-game sweep in March of 2021 that saw the team beat the Oilers three times in six days by a combined score of 13-1 — with three different goalies in net, and despite the absence of Auston Matthews for two of the games.
They’ve set a high bar in Edmonton, indeed.
The Leafs‘ checking line and overall depth will receive a boost tonight with the return of Ilya Mikheyev, who has missed 74 games due to injury over three seasons since signing with the Leafs. Without last change on the road, Sheldon Keefe has put together a line with Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and David Kampf that should give him a checking trio he can trust on the ice against most matchups, although Mikheyev should be afforded some leeway to find his legs and timing 30 games into the NHL season.
In order to move Engvall up onto the third line left wing, with Jason Spezza still serving his suspension and Nick Ritchie out with a non-Covid-related illness, the Leafs will insert 25-year-old offseason signing Brett Seney — he of 53 NHL games played (13 points) in New Jersey — as their fourth-line center tonight. The undersized (5’9, 160 pounds) London, Ontario native has been on an offensive tear with the Marlies — 10 goals in 19 games — and will be counted on to bring some speed, energy, and faceoff ability down the lineup tonight.
Also returning from injury — a shorter-term injury in this case — is Travis Dermott, who will join Justin Holl on the third pairing, as Jake Muzzin – Timothy Liljegren will undergo a good test with their fair share of ice time against McDavid and Draisaitl, although the Leafs don’t control the matchups and their defense pairings are balanced to the point where it will need to be a by-committee approach (both among the defense and forwards). Speaking of McDavid and Draisaitl, they’re expected to start on a line together as Dave Tippett loads up in the injury absence of former Leaf Zach Hyman. The Oilers are coming off of five consecutive losses in which they’ve scored just eight goals.
Coming off of his worst two-game set of the season (.875 vs. CBJ, .846 vs TB) followed by a rest day on Saturday, Jack Campbell returns to the crease for the Leafs while Mikko Koskinen (12-5-0, .907 save percentage) starts for the Oilers.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge for his team tonight:
When you think about the Oilers, you go right to their top two players, but they’re a hungry team coming in. We just have to be ready and focused. We got a large sample of this team last season. We saw both ends of the spectrum on it in terms of success against them but also times when we struggled. We just have to be really focused on the details of our game defensively, be really good on special teams, stay out of the penalty box as best we can, and give ourselves an opportunity to compete in the game.
Keefe on the opportunity Timothy Liljegren is receiving next to Jake Muzzin:
We made a decision as an organization that we were going to give him a great opportunity starting from day one of training camp — one he really hasn’t had. When I got hired, it’s mid-season and harder to get it going. He played some games then, but you are going into the bubble, and you play against Columbus — there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity there. Last season, there were no exhibition games played.
This season, we felt we needed to really give him a good go from the start, which is why we paired him with Muzzin early on and tried to play him in as many preseason games as we could and in a lot of situations.
Dean Chynoweth really believed in him. Reviewing his video coming into the season, he is a guy he really wanted to see play in these types of situations. With everything we have given him, he has done a good job with it. He is continuing to evolve that way.
Keefe on the challenge of McDavid and Draisaitl on the same unit vs. the two driving separate lines:
When they are together they are that much more dangerous, that much more dynamic, that much more of an ability to capitalize on a mistake that you may make. When they are separate, they are making players better on two separate lines. That presents its challenges.
Playing against them last season, we saw a little bit of everything. I suspect in the game today we will see a little bit of everything as well. They move things around quite a bit. We are just going to have to be alert when we are out there, and most importantly, try to establish our game as much as we can.
We have elite players on our side as well. That gives us confidence that whoever we put over the boards and whatever our situation is, we can go out and win that shift.
Keefe on whether there is a blueprint for success available from the Leafs’ three straight wins in Edmonton last season:
There are some things inside of those games that we were able to use from those clips. There were also things that, on the other side of it, were areas of those games where we struggled. We have talked about that as well. It is both sides of it. We talked about it, but we try to stay current both in what is happening with our team and what is happening with the Oilers.
We can’t be living in the past too much, but with that sample of the season last season, we felt that way this season through November. That is the closest we have felt to that, but that has slipped as the calendar has flipped to December. Some of it is the losses we have had to injuries and the schedule and things like that — you take a guy like Mitch Marner out of our lineup — but we have to get that back.
That is what we are focused on here today. Our guys know that we have played well and have a sense of what the recipe is, but you are one mistake or one bad shift away from that turning pretty quickly. We just have to remain on top of it.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett on the matchup against the Leafs:
They’re a good team with a power play that is rolling right now. You have to respect what they have over there. We have to get our group together here. We are more worried about what we are doing right now.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #25 Ondrej Kase
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#43 Kyle Clifford – #62 Brett Seney – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#35 Petr Mrazek
Extras: Alex Biega, Alex Steeves
Injured/Out: Nick Ritchie, Rasmus Sandin, Mitch Marner, Jason Spezza
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#29 Leon Draisaitl – #97 Connor McDavid – #44 Zack Kassian
#37 Warren Foegele – #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#16 Tyler Benson – #8 Kyle Turris – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#14 Devin Shore – #10 Derek Ryan – #70 Colton Sceviour
#25 Darnell Nurse – #75 Evan Bouchard
#2 Duncan Keith – #5 Cody Ceci
#80 Markus Niemelainen – #22 Tyson Barrie
Starter: #19 Mikko Koskinen
Injured/Out: Oscar Klefbom, Josh Archibald, Alex Stalock, Mike Smith, Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell, Ryan McLeod, Zach Hyman