Just over three weeks ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs 18-4-2 opened an eight-point lead in the standings over the Oilers after a 6-1 blowout that capped a three-game series sweep. in Edmonton.
Fast forward to nine games, the Oilers closed the lead to just two points after a 7-2 streak for Edmonton and a 3-6-0 drop for the Leafs (who have a game in hand), leading the way to two reviews. – series of games tonight and Monday.
The Oilers are entering this two-game series, much like they did the first of three games that deflected them against the Leafs less than a month ago: They are the hottest team in the North Division, 7-3-0 in their last 10. .
In those 10 games, Connor McDavid and Leon Drasailtl lit him at an even hotter pace than usual, with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) and 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) respectively. Both, alongside PPQB Tyson Barrie, have at least five power play points in those games, with four of Draisaitl’s eight goals in the man advantage.
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Naturally, the biggest game goal for the Leafs will be to face McDavid and Draisaitl’s two-headed monster as effectively as they did last time around, but this time it looks like they could play on the same row after spending the most. of the season apart. They were reunited halfway through their last game, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins moved on and joined Dominik Kahun – a line which is completed by Kailer Yamamoto, who will return from injury tonight.
Sheldon Keefe has split the McDavid game fairly evenly between pairs Rielly-Brodie and Muzzin-Holl during the season series so far, with both pairs losing the possession battle but edging ahead in goals at 5v5 (2-0 for the Muzzin-Holl pairing, 3-1 for the Rielly-Brodie pairing). The Matthews line played the most against McDavid head-to-head (2-0 in 5v5 goals), but it was more of a team effort overall, particularly with Matthews missing two of the games against the Oilers in due to an injury.
While he naturally had his moments in the five games, the commitment to stay above McDavid (and Draisaitl) through the neutral zone to limit his chances of rushing, defending in layers in the defensive zone. and keeping goals reliable has been the recipe for success for the Leafs in the series this season to date.
While the big guns naturally receive the lion’s share of attention in these highly anticipated Leafs-Oilers clash, it’s worth noting that the Leafs have moved to a more balanced four-line setup within their forward squad. If the Oilers load McDavid and Draisaitl on, the Leafs should be able to exploit some discrepancies with other home clashes, but much of their success in this area will depend on William Nylander and John Tavares regaining their offensive pace at 5v5. .
Edmonton has not played since last Saturday after all three games scheduled against Montreal this week were called off after Covid-related issues forced the Habs to postpone games. As a result, the Oilers have had plenty of time to rest and prepare for this two-game set, but the flip side is they may be dealing with some rust that the Leafs could take advantage of early in the game. game tonight.
The Oilers start at net will be Mike Smith, 39, who has taken over as the Oilers’ option “1A” in goal for the time being. He’s been in good shape against unnamed Northern Division opponents the Leafs, winning four of his last five games with an 11-3-0 record and .922 save percentage this season.
As for the Leafs’ goaltender situation, Sheldon Keefe didn’t have much update this morning regarding Frederik Andersen, who is treating a lower body injury at the moment. It doesn’t look like the team is eager to rush him and will take their time to make sure he regains his full strength. Andersen still hasn’t skated since his last start.
Jack Campbell, whose perfect record (5-0-0) and sparkling save percentage (.958) so far this season has been in the spotlight this season, will start his third straight game tonight with Michael Hutchinson on supporting. Campbell’s last start from Edmonton on February 27 was a 30-save shutout, Toronto’s first of three straight wins against the Oilers.
Match Day Quotes
Morgan Rielly on the Leafs’ success against the Oilers this year and what they need to do to continue tonight:
We didn’t allow too many rushes of odd men. I just thought we were playing on our structure. We made it difficult for them to get through the neutral zone, we obstructed it pretty well, and I think we’re going to have to replicate that here tonight and Monday night.
We haven’t gone too far. We obviously talked about what we did in those games that made us successful and what happened recently that caused a bit of a slippage.
To get ready, you just have a little more and you’re going to play. We know what to do. We know how we played during that time in Edmonton. It’s important that we look back on those games and take that attitude tonight that we’re going to be good defensively and capitalize on our chances.
Sheldon Keefe on Jason Spezza’s face-off ability:
This was very practical, especially since it was a right shot. It helps a lot on this point, especially since all of our crosses are left-handed players. This has been an important factor in the death penalty. It helped us a lot there. It’s another thing that we used a bit last season for sure, but we spoke to him before camp this year about taking a bigger step in that regard.
Keefe on John Tavares’ defensive progress this season:
It’s just recognizing when it’s time to play offense and when it’s time to defend. I think a lot of our players last season hung out on the attacking side a little too long. When it was time to defend ourselves, we delayed this decision-making process. We had to shorten that time and resume the defense more quickly. I think he did a great job on this. It has been a major improvement that way.
I think John would like to have more five-on-five goals. He had a lot of chances to score those goals and it wasn’t for him. While we have high expectations for him and he will do it on his own, I think if you look around the league he’s still pretty well placed with where he is.
There are a lot of teams he would lead to score. He would be among the top two in more than half of the league. He’s done a lot of really good things for us and he’s been one of the main reasons we’re where we are this season in the standings. That being said, I think we’re obviously looking for ways to get him more involved on the offensive side without sacrificing on the other end.
Keefe on the roster changes up front tonight:
A big part of this is that I wanted to get Simmonds back with Tavares and Nylander – that’s a big deal. I think that line for me, when Wayne left with his injury, was really starting to start. I think this is the best line we’ve had there – these guys were really going and had a lot of opportunities. Wayne was bringing a lot to the line, so I wanted to come back to that.
For Galchenyuk, giving him a good chance was also important. I think we’ve placed him well here now and liked what he did. There’s nothing against what he brought to this line, but I wanted Wayne to be in this space.
It was important to keep this Engvall group together. Joe has played great hockey against the Edmonton Oilers this season, especially on the defense. What he brought to these guys and how he played against the best players in Edmonton, he did a really good job. He was aware of their presence and the way he needs to play.
Toronto Maple Leafs projected lines
# 97 Joe Thornton – # 34 Auston Matthews – # 16 Mitch Marner
# 88 William Nylander – # 91 John Tavares – # 24 Wayne Simmonds
# 65 Ilya Mikheyev – # 47 Pierre Engvall – # 11 Zach Hyman
# 12 Alex Galchenyuk – # 15 Alex Kerfoot – # 19 Jason Spezza
# 44 Morgan Rielly – # 78 TJ Brodie
# 8 Jake Muzzin – # 3 Justin Holl
# 23 Travis Dermott – # 22 Zach Bogosian
# 36 Jack Campbell (partant)
# 30 Michael Hutchinson
Supplements: Martin Marincin, Nic Petan, Alexander Barabanov
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
# 15 Josh Archibald – # 91 Gaetan Haas – # 44 Zack Kassian
# 14 Devin Shore – # 16 Jujhar Khaira – # 39 Alex Chiasson
Nurse # 25 Darnell – # 22 Tyson Barrie
# 84 William Lagesson – # 6 Adam Larsson
# 4 Kris Russell – # 74 Ethan Bear
# 41 Mike Smith (partant)
# 19 Mikko Koskinen
Injured: Slater Koekkoek, Oscar Kelfbom, Alex Stalock