There will be a stark contrast tonight, the arena will be empty and quiet, against the fiery disposition of the Oilers fans, ablaze with the disappointment of a season slipping away. To make matters all the more dire, Connor McDavid looks destined for a stint in COVID protocols, leaving an impossibly large hole to fill in a lineup that has been struggling. Perhaps, for the hopeful, the night is darkest before the dawn. With each loss that compiles the Oilers swing nearer to significant changes that will shape their organizational future.
Hosting tonight’s event, the Maple Leafs, coming off a 6-0 win over the Senators, in what will be their 2nd game since the pause. Matthews’ availability is tied up in COVID protocols as well, but the Leafs star appears to have a chance to play tonight. The Leafs are rounding into form, looking even stronger than last season. No doubt the Oilers will be in tough to get back into the win column. We’re expecting to see Koskinen and Campbell in net for their teams, although based on Tippett’s post game comments the start for the Oilers could very well be up in the air.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Score first. Easier said than done, but an early goal would take a lot of pressure off the team.
- Galvanize. Without McDavid the Oilers will have to build their game upon something else. Perhaps a player thrust into a bigger role has some success the team could use going forward.
- Don’t cheat. Despite their opponent’s weakened state, the Leafs need to stick to a balanced game plan. This starts with focus and intensity.
- Lock up Leon. The leafs have no reason but to pull out all the stops in matching up against Draisaitl. Force someone else to beat you.
Edmonton: McDavid likely out on protocols. Smith re-injured (day-to-day) and Nugent -Hopkins has returned to Edmonton with an injury.
Hyman — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Benson — McLeod — Puljujarvi
Foegele — Ryan — Sceviour
Perlini — Shore — Turris
Nurse — Bouchard
Keith — Ceci
Koekkoek — Barrie
Toronto: Kase seems to be out (day-to-day)
Bunting — Matthews — Marner
Kerfoot — Tavares — Nylander
Mikheyev— Kampf — Engvall
Ritchie — Spezza — Simmonds
Rielly — Brodie
Muzzin — Holl
Sandin — Dermott
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edmonton: With the most key piece of the lineup out there could be any number of line shuffling combinations throughout the game. Through it all Draisaitl will need to have a fantastic game, perhaps even elevating his level of play. Of course with RNH out as well his only regular linemate available is Yamamoto, who has started to score in this spot recently. From there I’m guessing a bit on the lines, Hyman should be integral in his return to Toronto.
The most obvious benefactor, when it comes to opportunity, should be McLeod. He’s been playing well, even improving, but has yet to see a significant increase of icetime. With trade rumours suggesting the Oilers are targeting a 3C, among other things, and not much room against the cap this is exactly what both the team and player need. Benson has had his best games with McLeod, and Puljujarvi is available to boost the pair. My hopes are up, alright?
Ryan has been at his best when paired with more physically imposing wingers, and Foegele and Sceviour have both been solid this season. At least for a short stretch, this trio could be effective.
Despite all the chaos the Oilers have what is essentially their defence completely intact. They will need to be up to the tall task before them. Lagesson has put up a really strong flow of play stats this season, so maybe the Oilers best 6 should include him, at least for now. He doesn’t exactly look the most graceful, but he’s sustained some strong play throughout a variety of deployments.
Toronto: Especially if Matthews can play, the Leafs are very close to completely healthy. Bunting has been good in Hyman’s old spot, perhaps not with quite as much quality, but there’s been definitive chemistry with Matthews. He is also more of a disturber than Hyman. Kerfoot has settled in nicely with Nylander and Tavares. For my money, Nylander and Marner are a lot closer in talent and impact than most of the world seems to notice.
Mikheyev has had a series of unfortunate circumstances during his time in the NHL, including another hand injury that kept him out until the most recent game. There was talk that he requested a trade in the offseason (I don’t think Toronto is moving him in season) but I thought he would be an interesting, low cap option for the Oilers to bolster their middle 6.
Kampf has been great as a defensive centre, and Mikheyev and Engvall bring a lot of size, speed, and underrated skill on the wings.
The fourth line is no joke either, as they are able to hold their own against the Oilers best possible 3rd line. There might not be another offensive 4th line like this across the league. Spezza can expose weaker opponents, Simmonds still has enough speed and puck skills to chip in on transition, and Ritchie can be effective in the cycle with some soft passing skills.
The defence is fully healthy. Muzzin and Holl have had a rough start to the season, especially as a pairing. They are reunited for the first time since the pause hoping some rest and a restart can give them time to regain their form. This could be an area the Oilers could attack, in fact, Leafs coach Keefe may be trying to play this pair against Draisaitl to test their form.
Sandin and Dermott form an interesting pair, as Sandin develops up the lineup. Perhaps the pairing is a bit undersized, but both are strong skaters. I think my best 6 defenders for Toronto would include Liljegren, but Keefe has been rotating the trio of Liljegren, Holl, and Dermott through the lineup.