The Edmonton Oilers came to Toronto tonight. Auston Matthews was injured, and William Nylander appeared as a top nine centre for the first time—AFAIK—since his first, partial year in the NHL.
The game was preceded by a ceremony celebrating Toronto FC’s recent MLS championship.
The new William Nylander line struck immediately. Connor Brown forced a turnover and chipped it to Zach Hyman; Hyman gave it to William Nylander; Nylander advanced the puck into the corner, then threw it back to Jake Gardiner at the point; Hyman tipped it and it trickled through Laurent Brossoit. 1-0 Leafs.
(It took a while to establish Hyman got his stick on this one; there was a fun period where Gardiner in the play-by-play record was credited with shots from 57 ft and 7 ft one second apart.)
Speaking of Gardiner, he helped generate the next quality chance, going to the corner and hitting a trailing Nazem Kadri, who wired a puck on goal. Brossoit had to make an agile save to keep it out.
The Bozak line joined in the fun, with JVR whacking a puck through the crease that narrowly stayed out.
The Oilers put some pressure on, as depth wingers Zach Kassian and Drake Caggiula gave the Leafs a bit of trouble in their own zone, just failing to get a shot out of a Royal Road pass.
Connor McDavid and Kadri had an exchange that our boss Katya described as a “trip and dive combo”; the refs decided not to call either. The play ended with a Patrick Marleau SOG.
Once again, the Oilers’ fourth line of Letestu, Kassian and Caggiula had a strong shift against the Leafs’ depth, fighting hard throughout the zone and putting pressure on the Leafs’ third pair. Edmonton’s fourth line looked like their best early. Marleau and Komarov ran the puck back up the ice for a chance thereafter.
The Leafs’ fourth line—Dominic Moore, between Matt Martin and Josh Leivo—got a bit of pushback in their next battle with the Letestu group, getting some good o-zone time, albeit not much in the way of chances. The refs seemed to be letting a lot go.
The Oilers got their first really scary chance of the evening about fifteen minutes in—Connor McDavid zoomed around Ron Hainsey and then cut to the middle. Curtis McElhinney made an excellent pokecheck to knock the puck away on the way by, then smothered it.
Big Mac with a big poke check on McDavid pic.twitter.com/U4uicryHYE— Flintor (@TheFlintor) December 11, 2017
That is just pure speed, folks.
The Oilers came on a little bit in the latter part of the period, predictably led by McDavid, but also with a couple of nice plays by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Still, nothing went in, and that was the end of the first.
The numbers showed that period as approximately even, but I’d give the edge to the Leafs overall. The third pair of Andreas Borgman and Roman Polak got stuck for a couple of tough shifts, but the Oilers had relatively few high-danger shots; the Connor McDavid cut-through was by far their best chance of the period. Not to be fatalistic, but sometimes McDavid does that to you. Beyond that, the Leafs could feel pretty good about this period.
The McDavid line came on a bit early in the second, with Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi swarming a bit. A brutal giveaway led to a slot chance for Zach Kassian; he rang the post with it.
Oilers Coach Todd McLellan began tinkering with his lines, putting together his star forward combination of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The first penalty came at about four minutes in; Matt Martin got called for holding and Edmonton went to the powerplay.
The Oilers looked very dangerous on the PP, giving the Leafs hell for about 100 seconds straight and generating a couple of good looks for McDavid, but Toronto survives and gets the kill. The Leafs came back the other way afterwards and Patrick Marleau drew a penalty, getting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to hold him.
The Leafs didn’t conjure too much in the early stages of the PP, but a transition led by Patrick Marleau apparently scared Zach Kassian out of his wits, because Kassian took a very blatant hooking call trying to slow down Josh Leivo. The Leafs got an 18-second 5-on-3.
They didn’t score, although the Leafs c veamery, very close on a crease scramble where JVR pinged the post. However, the best chance was for Connor McDavid, who got a shorthanded breakaway after a Rielly pinch went awry. McDavid tried to go five-hole and Curtis stayed with him well to make the save. Great work, Mac.
William Nylander narrowly missed a chance at the end of the PP, alas. The Oilers began to come on on the counterattack, and the Bozak line and the third pairing got stuck together in the zone under heavy pressure. McElhinney looked exceedingly sharp, staying with the puck pretty much without fail and keeping the Leafs ahead.
The Leafs, however, ran into some pretty serious trouble near the end of the second. Roman Polak took a cross-checking penalty, and then Mitch Marner took a tripping call immediately after. This set up a two-minute 5-on-3 for the Oilers. Hoo boy.
This was, I have to be honest, terrifying as hell. McElhinney was both very lucky and very good, getting bounces away from the goal and making saves. The Leafs also made some heroic clearing efforts, and the Leafs somehow survived. Some scary moments aside, the Leafs got out of the second still up 1-0.
Well, we have to be honest, the Oilers were way better this period. Curtis McElhinney, whatever you think of his overall role as backup, was absolutely sterling. The Bozak line and the Borgman-Polak pairing got punished for some heavy stretches stuck in their own end; one such shift (with Zaitsev on for Borgman) led to the double penalty towards the end of the period. McDavid is firing on all cylinders, notwithstanding the breakaway, and RNH has been dangerous too. Even with McE in peak form, I don’t feel especially good about us holding a 1-0 lead into the third the way the second has gone.
The Bozak line’s travails continued as Mitch Marner took his second tripping call of the night early in the third. The Oilers went back to the PP.
The Oilers were buzzing all over the offensive zone, getting chance after chance; I thought the best one was a back-door tip that Milan Lucic just missed, but McDavid also hit the crossbar. It was just terrifying almost wire-to-wire before Zach Hyman got a clear at the very end. McElhinney was again good and again lucky, getting some help from his posts. Somehow the Leafs held on.
The Bozak line got on the counterattack for a bit, nearly burying a puck that Brossoit had to sprawl out and grab out of the blue paint. This was followed up by a wild fourth line shift that had scrambles in the slot. Tons of action.
It’s hard to recap this section—it was end-to-end from the end of the powerplay for several minutes, and it seemed crazy nothing went in. The next sequence after the TV timeout featured fewer Grade-A chances, but still a lot of flowing action. Once McDavid got back out, the chances came back too; Jesse Puljujarvi, Kris Russell and others all had McElhinney scrambling, but he hung in. Say what you will about him, dude does not quit.
In fact, the whole period seems to have been:
Oilers blow a grade-A chance
McElhinney makes a Cirque de Soleil save
Leafs get a chance that barely stays out
and repeat. The Leafs were extremely lucky still to be ahead, but I’m also a little surprised they only had one goal of their own.
The Oilers come coming, and coming, and coming, but somehow, the Leafs hung on. 1-0. That was tense.
- Here is tonight’s recap in a photograph:
- It is better to be lucky than good, they say, but it is best of all to be both. First, the luck thing isn’t me being grudging; the Oilers looked snakebitten as all hell, ringing posts and missing every chance.
Crossbar in the 3rd makes it at least 4 posts or crossbars this game for the Oilers. McElhinney the story in this game so far with 11:46 left in regulation. #tmltalk— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) December 11, 2017
- At the same time, Curtis McElhinney was as good as I’ve seen him be in a Leaf uniform. You don’t pitch a 41-save shutout without being very much on your game, and he was. The Oilers took a look of point shots—the Leafs somehow won the expected goal battle, although they kind of keeled over dead in the third—but especially late, Edmonton swarmed and McE fought for every save. He’s the story.
- The Leafs played quite well in the first, began to crack in the second, and then slipped into a full-on turtle for the latter part of the third period. This is not the first time that’s happened lately. Why this is happening I don’t know—score effects are some of it, but not nearly to this extent—but it’s worrisome. I hope we’re still going to be winning games when our goalies aren’t standing on their heads, because that’s how we’ve been doing it of late.
- But, having said that, we were missing our 1C, and that doesn’t do us any favours.
- William Nylander did a mostly-creditable job in the centre role tonight and then struggled late, notably missing a clear (although this was when the whole team was hanging on for dear life.) His shot attempt numbers sewered in the third, as did pretty much the whole team, but he was actually above Kadri and Bozak in that regard. I would grade his evening at a B, but I don’t know what Mike Babcock will think of it.
- Jake Gardiner was flying offensively in the first, and hung on to post decent CF% on a night most people got shelled.
- Against the Penguins, the JVR-Bozak-Marner line was deadly. Tonight, well, things were tough. This was a miserable game for Marner especially, given his penalties—although all this said, JVR could easily have scored a couple.
- The Kadri line has shut down the McDavid line successfully in the past. Tonight, well, not so much. They took really tough work in the third, and it was rough out there.
No— Did The Oilers Win? (@DidOilersWin) December 11, 2017
- What is wrong with the Oilers? They take too many low-percentage shots, but in a game like tonight, they had enough shots of every kind that they should have scored, even granted their wingers aren’t the best. They looked like they were cursed, bobbling chance after chance. McDavid was the best skater on the ice, but it wasn’t enough. That team is in a bad way right now, man.
- I suppose I don’t sound as optimistic as I should after a shutout win without Matthews, do I? Hey, they don’t ask how, they ask how many. I just hope we don’t play like we did in the third too often. Still, we played a strong first period and we got the win, and the Leafs are now on pace for 108 points. That’ll do.