The Edmonton Oilers are 1-3-0, and four of their next six games will come against a 3-1-0 Toronto Maple Leafs team that almost everyone agrees will win the North Division this season. I don’t need to tell you, things could get dire really quickly in this 56-game season. The Oilers need to string together some wins, and they need to do it now.
Tonight, the Oilers will play their first true road game since last March as they open a two-game set with the Maple Leafs in Ontario. It’s the first of a four-game road trip that will also take the team to Winnipeg on Sunday night. This is the first of nine marquee meetings between the Oilers and Maple Leafs, and it will air nationally on NBCSN in the United States.
Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Leafs, while Mikko Koskinen makes his fifth start in a row for the Oilers.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Shoot the damn puck! The Oilers, especially on the powerplay, appeared like they were trying to pass the puck into the net during both losses against the Montreal Canadiens. That just isn’t going to work against good teams. The Oilers need to shoot the puck more and need to be less predictable when they enter the offensive zone. Andersen hasn’t exactly looked good to start this season, so testing him early and potentially getting to him could be key to a much-needed victory.
Toronto: Defend the blueline. The Oilers looked lost in their two losses against Montreal because the Canadiens did an excellent job of preventing the Oilers from gaining the zone with speed. If the Maple Leafs are able to slow Edmonton’s entries down and standup the blueline, they have a great chance to collect their fourth win in five tries.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Leon Draisaitl, outside of the second game of the season, has been awfully quiet to start the campaign. Draisaitl has largely been shutdown at five-on-five, and has been slow out of the gate. He’s far too good of a player for that to last. Against a team like Toronto with major questions on defense, Draisaitl seems primed to break things open offensively.
Toronto: It’s going to be strange to see Joe Thornton wearing the blue and white of the Maple Leafs. Thornton signed a one-year deal with the club this fall, and was slated to play a depth role as the Leafs look to finally win a playoff round. He’s not the same player he once was, but Thornton can still make plays and can create issues for the opponent. Oh, and he’s lining up on the top-line currently.
The Oilers will make a few small changes to the lineup tonight. William Lagesson, who made his season debut, will come out and join Caleb Jones as a scratch. Ethan Bear returns to the lineup. Up front, Tyler Ennis remains a scratch, while James Neal will not be activated from the IR. He and Gaetan Haas remain on IR, but both are close to a return. Neal could be available for Friday night’s game.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Joakim Nygard – Kyle Turris – Jesse Puljujarvi
Josh Archibald – Devin Shore – Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Kris Russell – Tyson Barrie
Slater Koekkoek – Adam Larsson
The Leafs signed Thornton this off-season as part of their plan to get ‘tougher’ and to add more veterans to the lineup. That plan also saw them sign Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian. The Leafs also improved their defense with the signing of TJ Brodie, and they added Mikko Lehtonen from the KHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs Lines:
Joe Thornton – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Jimmy Vesey – John Tavares – William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev – Alexander Kerfoot – Zach Hyman
Mikko Lehtonen – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Travis Dermott – Zach Bogosian
“We got to get our competitive levels up,” Coach Dave Tippett said following Monday’s 3-1 defeat against Montreal. “When you’re not winning, you got to do what it takes to try to get to a winning formula. That’s what we’ll continue to look for.”
The Oilers and Leafs split their two-game season series in 2019-20, with the road team winning both in regulation. The Leafs knocked off the Oilers 4-1 on December 14th, but Edmonton responded with a 6-4 victory on January 6th. That night, Connor McDavid scored what many called the goal of the season.
Speaking of which, McDavid has loved this matchup in the past on a personal basis. He’s scored 15 career points (5 g, 10 a) in nine games against Toronto. He’s not the only Oiler that loves this matchup either. Kyle Turris, formerly with the Ottawa Senators, has 21 points (10 g, 11 a) in 30 career games against Toronto.