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Game Preview: Maple Leafs face the Oilers down two men

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The Leafs play their first of two games this season against the Oilers at home tonight.

Phoenix Coyotes v Edmonton Oilers
Lupul would probably be a top three scorer on the Oilers this season.
Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers
Time: 7:00PM
Location: The McDavid and Matthews Are Not Rivals Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet
Opponent SBNation Site: The Copper ‘n Blue

Here come the Oilers.

The Leafs play the Oilers twice each season, and in keeping with the tradition of wonky NHL scheduling, the first of these games will be tonight and the second will be two Saturdays hence, as the Leafs will do their annual Western Canada road trip (yes, all the games next week start at 9:00 p.m. EST.)

The Maple Leafs still sit comfortably in a divisional playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. Fresh off a trade deadline day where they made only one minor transaction, the Leafs are clearly going all in on a playoff run.

Nazem Kadri is still not ready to return to the lineup, so William Nylander will remain the third-line centre. Jake Gardiner will not play in tonight’s game, and Igor Ozhiganov will come in on the third pair with Travis Dermott.

When someone explains that, we’ll let you know,

Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - William Nylander - Connor Brown
Trevor Moore - Frederik Gauthier - Tyler Ennis

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Muzzin - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen - confirmed starter
Garret Sparks

Edmonton Oilers

Forward Lines

Leon Draisaitl - Connor McDavid - Alex Chiasson
Sam Gagner - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Zack Kassian
Milan Lucic - Colby Cave - Josh Currie
Tobias Rieder - Kyle Brodziak - Ty Rattie

Defence Pairings

Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse - Kris Russell
Andrej Sekera - Matthew Benning

Goaltenders

Mikko Koskinen
Anthony Stolarz

Oscar Klefbom may be injured again after taking a slash to the hand vs Nashville, but no announcement has been made.

McDavid is returning to the Oilers lineup tonight after serving a two game suspension.

Updated lines:

The state of the Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers now sit eight points out of the playoff race. The standings are still tight in the Western Conference, but the Oilers have been about eight points back for months now. They made no progress up the standings in February at all. After so much tumult this season, they once again find themselves in desperation mode. With only about 20 games left to play for NHL teams this season, the prospect of an Oilers hot-streak to catch-up grows dimmer with each game played.

Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal noted that in the Oilers last game — a shootout loss to the Predators — they fielded a team with zero players on Entry Level Contracts. They do have Jesse Puljujarvi on one, but he is currently on injured reserve. Compare that situation to the Leafs who will put out a team with all of Matthews, Marner, Moore, Kapanen, Dermott, and Ozhiganov all on a cost controlled ELC. How is it even possible the Oilers, who have missed the playoffs eleven of the past twelve seasons, don’t have even one single player on an ELC their GM thinks is worth putting out to play with the big club?

A quick and dirty way to compare these teams is to look at the on-ice Goals-For%. These stats are 5 vs 5 raw data from Natural Stat Trick not limited to any TOI or games played: the Oilers have only six players this season with a GF% over 50%. Those six include Chris Wideman, who was traded away (and then traded again), and Josh Currie, who has so far appeared in only four games.

The Maple Leafs have only four players with a GF% under 50%. They are: Justin Holl, who has only appeared in four games; Martin Marincin, who is now down with the Marlies; and Zaitsev and Marleau who have a GF% right under the line at 48%.

Look at this shot map from hockeyviz.com of the Oilers without Draisaitl on the ice.

hockeyviz.com

The Leafs are a team with diverse scoring lines. The Oilers are McDavid, Draisaitl and a bunch of junk and injured players hanging on for the ride. How they wound up here in 2019 after so many first picks at the NHL Draft is astounding.

Let’s wrap up by saying that of course nothing is final. There are still a small number of pathways possible for the Oilers to make it to the playoffs and for the Leafs to miss. With 20 games or so left in the season, tonight’s game is the kick-off for both teams of the rush to clinch or be left behind.