William Nylander: “He is two away from 50, so… not tonight.”

The annual Matthews vs. McDavid HNIC-in-Toronto showdown features the added intrigue of Zach Hyman’s chase for 50 goals — he’s currently at 48 — in his hometown against his former team tonight at the Scotiabank Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/CBC).

The Leafs are without Mitch Marner, Calle Jarnkrok, and possibly Tyler Bertuzzi in addition to Ilya Lyubushkin’s absence on the backend, leaving them hobbled compared to a fully healthy Oilers lineup. But after the Oilers stormed back from 2-0 down to beat Toronto in Edmonton in January, this is the kind of marquee matchup where the Leafs‘ healthy stars need to bring their best and exact some revenge in their home barn.

At 18-12-3, the Leafs haven’t been nearly as dominant as in past seasons on home ice and have allowed some games against top teams to slip away from them at the Scotiabank Arena (vs. Colorado, Boston, Carolina). This would be a perfect time to start reversing that trend ahead of the playoffs.

Edmonton is expected to run a loaded-up look of Draisaitl – McDavid – Hyman for this game, which brings into extra focus Matthews’ matchup alongside Max Domi and one of Bertuzzi or Matthew Knies (depending on Bertuzzi’s status). Matthews is coming off of one of his most dominant showings of the season in Washington (five points) in a back-to-back situation following a rough night in Philadelphia, and the Leafs are going to need a similar level of leadership from AM34 tonight against the NHL’s top team since the middle of November (39-12-3 post-coaching change).

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Oilers:

The challenges are obvious. Do you even need me to answer the question?

William Nylander on Zach Hyman’s 50-goal chase:

It has been incredible seeing him get his hat tricks. It has been lots of fun to see him have great success in Edmonton as a friend. It will be fun to play against him.

He is two from 50, so… not tonight.

Conor Timmins on the threat of Connor McDavid:

It is the speed at which he not only skates but plays the game. You have to be tight on him, not give him an inch, and defend in layers. A good challenge for us.

Hyman on the summer when he left Toronto:

It worked out the best it possibly could have worked out. When I was going through the process, I didn’t look at any other team besides Toronto until I knew that door was closed. I didn’t have much of a choice with regard to that door. As soon as that door closed, I quickly looked at Edmonton and said, “Out of all of the teams, this is the place I want to be.”

My wife and I got permission, and we went out and visited. Right away, we knew it was the spot. That was the key thing: Do we think we can grow a family there? That was most important.

Hockey-wise, it was a dream fit. I knew from the start that it was where I would fit in best and where we would have the best chance to win.

Ultimately, that is what you want: to win a Stanley Cup. Having an opportunity to play with Connor, Leon, and Nuge was a dream scenario for me. It has worked out the best it possibly could have.

Hyman on the opportunity to hit 50 goals in Toronto:

It would be pretty special. I don’t think many people would’ve thought I would have the opportunity to do it here, obviously. It would be pretty special.

Hyman on when he thought this opportunity might be realistic:

I was four goals away going into Buffalo, and it was probably not realistic. And then I scored two. I have scored two before.

Everybody is making a big deal of it, but I don’t think I have won here (in Toronto) yet. That is the focus. You can’t really choose when you score. You go to the areas and you make plays. You try to do your part.

Connor McDavid on the keys to Hyman’s goal-scoring success:

His battle level at the net and being around there getting his stick on things, finding loose pucks, and making little plays in tight. He is a great goal-scorer.

He goes about it differently than maybe an Auston Matthews, but he is a great goal-scorer in his own right. It’s been fun to watch.

McDavid on Auston Matthews’ incredible goal-scoring pace:

It seems like he finds so many different ways to score. He is so smart. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how smart he is. He is always in the right area and putting himself in a position to score. It is really impressive to watch.

Kris Knoblauch on Hyman as a player/person and his chase for 50 goals:

Playing with Connor McDavid helps, but Zach does so many things well defensively and on the forecheck. He is able to possess the puck and not give it away, which allows Connor to make those plays.

The biggest thing is how good he is around the net, whether it is a deflection, a backdoor tip, or fighting for space and not getting tied up. He does all of those little things reading the play, and he is also part of a power play that is pretty good and he contributes to. There are a lot of things that he does well that contribute to his goal total.

I didn’t know much about Zach coming in [to Edmonton], but I was told what a good, quality person he is and that he is an outstanding teammate who everyone looks up to. My time here has just confirmed everything I have heard about him.

He is so positive and upbeat. He works hard in practice. Ultimate team guy. With him scoring so many goals, guys on the bench are always excited when he puts them in. With the chase for 50, guys are encouraging him to hit that and will be happy for him.

Keefe on Hyman’s goal-scoring popping this season:

When I was with the Marlies, we called him Shaq Hyman for a reason. He got to the paint more and better than anybody. Now he is playing with a guy who gets the puck to the paint and tilts the ice more than anybody in the history of the game. It is a good fit, and he works to get to the right places. He is getting rewarded for it.

Knoblauch on encouraging his defensemen to activate offensively since taking over the bench:

Right from the beginning, we have talked about wanting to make plays. We don’t want to be a safe team that is just dumping and chasing and grinding it out. When you have star power and the players that we do, it is not the game you want to play.

As a coach, you have to be aware and acknowledge that mistakes do happen. Sometimes someone gets in a bad position, gets caught up ice, or gets a pass intercepted for a goal or scoring chance. Part of it is encouraging our defensemen to get up in the play.

On the best offensive teams, defensemen are involved. They are making it an odd-man rush. I like that. We have a lot of defensemen who can contribute, and they have been doing a pretty good job.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

In the season-to-date statistics, the Oilers hold the advantage over the Leafs in three out of five offensive categories and five out of five defensive categories.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #11 Max Domi
#74 Bobby McMann – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#24 Connor Dewar – #64 David Kampf – #18 Noah Gregor
#89 Nick Robertson –  #29 Pontus Holmberg – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #22 Jake McCabe
#20 Joel Edmundson – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#2 Simon Benoit – #25 Conor Timmins

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#31 Martin Jones

Scratched: TJ Brodie, Joseph Woll
Injured/Out: Tyler Bertuzzi, Ilya Lyubushkin, Mitch Marner, Calle Jarnkrok, Mark Giordano

Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines

#29 Leon Draisaitl – #97 Connor McDavid – #18 Zach Hyman
#37 Warren Foegel  – #93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #71 Ryan McLeod
#91 Evander Kane – #19 Adam Henrique – #10 Derek Ryan
#13 Mattias Janmark – #39 Sam Carrick – #28 Connor Brown

#14 Mattias Ekholm – #2 Evan Bouchard
#25 Darnell Nurse – #73 Vincent Desharnais
#27 Brett Kulak – #5 Cody Ceci

Starter: #74 Stuart Skinner
#30 Calvin Pickard