McDavids Oilers @ Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre; Toronto, ON
7:00 p.m.; TSN4 (Ontario), SN-Oilers (Edmonton region), GCL (everywhere else)
SBN Opposition: Copper N Blue
Where would you like me to start? The team went 0-2 over the weekend, the latter of those losses particularly being a stinker. The first loss, even if it was to the hated Habs, was somewhat forgivable. The Leafs dictated the play, but ran into a hot goalie; even then, a Shea Weber cannon was the difference between 0 points and 1-2 points.
The Leafs then followed that performance up with a game against the Islanders in Brooklyn that....well, it just flat out stunk. The team had played two games in two nights located 605 km apart, and they really showed it. Half of the team looked lost on the ice pretty much the entire game. Backup Jhonas Enroth was not really at fault, but he wasn't that great, either. Suffice to say, the Leafs did not dress up as a competent defensive unit for Halloween.
What's that? You want some good news? The Leafs, in spite of all their woes, are still running train on 5 v 5 possession (53.3 SACF%, 6th in the NHL). William Nylander looked like a real good Hockey Boy in both losses. Frederik Andersen has had two very good games, and it looks like the team has gotten better at tracking and collecting his rebounds (which was definitely not happening in his first five starts).
Most importantly: it's nine games into the first year of the rebuild where the plan wasn't "try to suck to acquire good players." This team will need time to fix the defensive errors, but things are looking good when that happens. Unfortunately, the pain Mike Babcock promised didn't come with a one-year warranty. You'll just need to be a bit patient for now.
You might have heard that the Oilers are off to a hot start. On the back of the star power of Connor McDavid and excellent goaltending from Cam Talbot, the Oilers are 7-2-0. Now, I hate to be a buzzkill, but.....
*remembers literally every Oilers fan moaning about the Leafs during the 2013 playoffs*
....actually, scratch that: I'd LOVE to be a buzzkill. These aren't the real Oilers. It's all unsustainable. Your team will regress. Life is meaningless and you will someday perish. Eat at Arby's.
A bit exaggerated? Sure; but there's a grain of truth. The Oilers boast a sky-high PDO of 1042, good for third in the NHL. Their team SV% is .933, and Talbot has posted a .936. Unless you believe that Talbot will continue to put up a full season better than Carey Price has put up his entire career, you cannot really think the Oilers will stay this good all year.
That's not to say the Oilers will definitely be a terrible team, either. They're pretty middle of the road possession-wise, and have found a pretty threatening line by sticking McDavid between Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Their major obstacle is that they're just not a great team when that line isn't on the ice. They're probably gonna be in that mushy middle of that teams, which is a step up; just not the step up that early season returns have indicated. These are neither your father's nor your slightly older brother's Oilers.
Don't tell the Edmonton media that, though; they're pretty committed to the lie:
Ooooooof. That's a rough take, even for them. Recall this media market spent years cheerleading the construction of an arena that bilked local taxpayers, located in an area serviced by public transit that is slow and barely functional, to revitalize a downtown that's largely a barren ghost town on evenings and weekends. Recall they prematurely urged their Alberta brethren to "dust off their rear view mirrors" almost four years- and zero postseason appearances- ago. And yet, this is even bad for these people.
Taylor Hall's 5 goals and 7 points, by the way, would be tied for first and second on the Oilers, respectively.
Storyline of the Game
Dueling lottery balls! In 2015, the Leafs watched as Connor McDavid- a GTA-born phenom that grew up an ardent fan of the blue and white- became property of the Oilers due to an errant lottery ball. The Leafs, picking fourth, "settled" for another local boy (and childhood Leaf fan) in Mitch Marner.
In 2016, the roles reversed. After being so close and yet so far on McDavid, we all know what happened next. The Leafs drafted their own franchise player in California-born, Arizona-bred Auston Matthews. After 9 games apiece, the two aren't too far apart. McDavid leads the NHL with 12 points, while Matthews has 10. Matthews has a slight edge in goals, with six to McDavid's five.
This won't just be the first matchup between McDavid and Matthews, but will be McDavid's first ever game in his hometown. An injury last season robbed him of a homecoming opportunity; this year, he'll get that chance opposite the Leafs' new franchise face.