The Maple Leafs are looking to snap a three-game losing slide when they visit an Oilers team that just set a franchise record with 10 consecutive victories (9:00 p.m. EST, TSN4 & Sportsnet West).
Edmonton’s reputation as an all-offense team hasn’t jived with the manner in which the Oilers are winning games of late; they have allowed two or fewer in eight straight games as part of their winning run and are controlling five-on-five play at a high level at both ends of the ice.
The Leafs are going to have to find another level to their five-on-five play tonight, particularly defensively, after conceding four or more in each of their three consecutive losses. Special teams are also going to have to nip the recent downturn in the bud against an Oilers team that hasn’t relied on its power play to win games lately but still boasts a combined special-teams efficiency of 106.2 (25.2% on the PP, 81% on the PK).
Perhaps working in the Leafs‘ favour is that recent visits to Rogers Place, up until March 1st of last season anyway, have been extremely productive for Toronto offensively and defensively. The Leafs are 9-1-1 in their trips to Edmonton in the Auston Matthews era, outscoring the Oilers by a resounding 38-16 margin up until their 5-2 loss to the Oilers in March of 2023.
The Leafs‘ star players received their fair share of flak after Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen ran over them in the Leafs‘ barn last Saturday, so this is a real opportunity to reverse the narrative against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and co.
Sheldon Keefe is reuniting Matthews and Mitch Marner as the team heads out on the road, with Pontus Holmberg playing on their left side. Tyler Bertuzzi will move down next to Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok, and Matthew Knies will skate with John Tavares and William Nylander in Bertuzzi’s usual spot.
Despite the head coach praising the Marner-Domi connection on Sunday, this appears to be Keefe’s attempt to strike a three-line balance while also putting back together his old-faithful-whenever-times-get-tough duo of Matthews-Marner. If they’re going to play on one line, it’s especially important that they lead the way for the team and win their minutes — regardless of the calibre of the opposition — in these tough matchups on the road during the Western Canada road swing (featuring three of the top-five hottest teams in the NHL).
On defense, Mark Giordano will re-enter the lineup next to Timothy Liljegren while Simon Benoit reunites with Jake McCabe (who is back on the right side). Martin Jones starts in goal after his five-game points streak (4-0-1, .949 SV%) came to an end against Colorado.
Game Day Quotes
Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch on the keys to his team’s 10-game winning streak:
We haven’t relied on one thing.
Our power play has come up big in some games, but we haven’t relied on it for us to be on a 10-game winning streak. Our power play has been okay; it hasn’t been exceptional, which it usually is.
Our penalty kill has been very good. Our goal-scoring has been down a bit; we haven’t relied on scoring four or five goals every night. The game has been well-rounded.
Probably the biggest thing that we have done well is our checking — and that includes our penalty kill — with the ability to keep pucks out of our net. As a team, we have been doing a really good job.
I would be ignorant not to mention how our goaltenders have been playing. Our team defense has been really good — we have been limiting the scoring chances against — and when there have been breakdowns, goaltending has been outstanding at coming up with the key saves.
Connor McDavid on the Oilers’ ability to win low-scoring games of late:
There is this narrative out there that we need to win 6-5 or whatever, but we have won a lot of hockey games over the last couple of years. We know how to win games.
Right now, we are doing it by not giving up too much. We have been getting great goaltending. The kill has been good. We have been finding different ways to win games. It’s a great sign.
Sheldon Keefe on what the team can learn from the Colorado loss heading into a matchup against another team with elite-of-the-elite offensive players:
Just how aware you need to be when it is time to defend and check but also how much harder the puck is to come by and how much you need to value it when you do get a chance to get it. That is really it.
Coming off of that Colorado game, it helps us with the preparation. They are different teams, but there are certainly similarities there in terms of the effectiveness on special teams and then the elite-calibre players.
They have a lot of confidence. They have put together a nice couple of months. We are going to have to be at our best. In these situations in the past, we have been. I am looking forward to competing tonight.
Auston Matthews on whether he’s surprised by Zach Hyman’s 26 goals in 38 games:
Not really, honestly. He is a guy who lives at the net. He is one of the hardest-working guys I have ever played with. He is playing with a pretty good player, too, which helps.
He has the ability to get open, to work and battle in front of the net, and to capitalize on his opportunities.
Matthews on whether Connor McDavid’s line is a different kind of challenge than Nathan MacKinnon’s line:
Maybe a little bit, but in the end, they’re coming at you with a lot of speed. They’re trying to attack, which is why they’re very successful. In the end, I think it is just knowing who you are out there against, trying to manage that, and being above guys.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Oilers
In the season-to-date statistics, the Oilers hold the advantage over the Leafs in four out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#23 Matthew Knies – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#74 Bobby McMann – #64 David Kampf – #18 Noah Gregor
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Scratched: Conor Timmins, William Lagesson, Nick Robertson
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll, Ryan Reaves
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #18 Zach Hyman
#91 Evander Kane – #29 Leon Draisaitl – #37 Warren Foegel
#13 Mattias Janmark – #71 Ryan McLeod – #10 Derek Ryan
#21 Adam Erne – #57 James Hamblin – #28 Connor Brown
#25 Darnell Nurse – #5 Cody Ceci
#14 Mattias Ekholm – #2 Evan Bouchard
#27 Brett Kulak – #73 Vincent Desharnais
Starter: #74 Stuart Skinner
#30 Calvin Pickard