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Maple Leafs Game Preview: Measure up to the Oilers

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Can the Leafs keep rolling with another win?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Edmonton Oilers: 7:00 p.m.
Watch on: TVAS, NBCSN, TSN4, SNW

Opponent’s site: Copper and Blue

It’s hard to dunk on the Oilers when they just beat the Boston Bruins in regulation. And yet, I shall try. The trouble is the Oilers aren’t actually a bad team this season. The trouble for the Oilers themselves is that they aren’t very good either. This is an affliction that most of the NHL suffers from right now, and it is legitimately tough, even halfway through the season, to tell the “meh, but might trend up” from the “meh, but likely will stay that way” teams.

The Oilers, at 15th in the league in points and 20th in goal differential, and they are 11th in regulation wins largely because their starter, Mikko Koskinen has been about league average, and their power play has been smoking hot. The Oilers have 37 power play goals, the same as the Bruins, and 11 more than the Leafs.

Otherwise, the Oilers are bad. They have bad Corsi, bad Expected Goals, and bad Goals For % at five-on-five, and, well, they average out bad. Sometimes they aren’t bad though. They aren’t always their average selves.

HockeyViz has a fun (and addictive) tool called the environment distiller, that lets you indulge in the vice of WOWY views of team performance. Messing about with various Leafs forwards and defender combinations is really instructive. But for understanding the Oilers, you need two things:

Offence with McDavid:

Defence without McDavid:

What does this even mean? Well “Threat” is the overall weighted (gently by shot location) value of the on-ice shots for or against relative to league average. A positive number in offence is good, and 12% is a very lovely and high positive, and a negative in defence is also good, and -12% is a very nice defensive number that I don’t think any Leafs player since the dawn of time has experienced. Certainly not this season. The Leafs as a team are at +2% defensively, or worse than league average by a thick hank of hair.

So, Connor McDavid is the Oilers offence, which I’m sure you knew. Their threat without him is -17%, which is appalling. Part of that is that Leon Draisaitl, while full of individual talent, is not capable of dragging around a coat rack and a umbrella stand as wingers while still being the best offensive player in the NHL.

The trouble is that there’s a price to pay for McDavid’s offensive glory, just as their is with Auston Matthews’ similar team-leading offensive results. McDavid’s defensive threat is +11%, and that’s a very bad number. Add that to the fact that McDavid plays the second most ice time of all forwards at 16:35 per game at five-on-five (Matthews is at 15:55) and you get a situation where, for a lot of the game, the Oilers are pretty easy to score on. And when McDavid sits down, they haven’t got a hope of scoring on you.

There is no team in the NHL so firmly and utterly dependant on one forward, and so insistent on filling the rest of the roster from the IKEA clearance room.

Now you likely want to know how Matthews’ threat numbers measure up to McDavid’s, so if you are the sort that likes that sort of thing, subscribe and go play with the tool (it’s very server intensive, so is a bit slow, and is therefore obviously always going to be behind a paywall).

Maple Leafs Lines

from Sunday’s practice

Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Mason Marchment - Frederik Gauthier - Dmytro Timashov

Morgan Rielly - Tyson Barrie
Martin Marincin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Cody Ceci

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

Oilers Lines

from dailyfaceoff.com

James Neal - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Leon Draisaitl - Kailer Yamamoto
Joakim Nygard - Gaetan Haas - Alex Chiasson
Jujhar Khaira - Riley Sheahan - Josh Archibald

Oscar Klefbom - Ethan Bear
Darnell Nurse - Adam Larsson
Caleb Jones - Kris Russell

Mikko Koskinen
Mike Smith

If the Oilers are two different and nearly opposite teams with and without McDavid, how can the Leafs capitalize with their lego block interchangeable offensive cycle system? (Defence is next semester, remember. The Leafs don’t speak that language yet.)

All they have to do is just keep rolling out their two and a half lines. This is a game where the talent level on the third line (like it was vs the Islanders) will likely dramatically outmatch their competition, and if they get zone time, they’ll score. One of the top lines should always be ready to make hay in the sunshine.

The only other thing the Leafs need to do is not take penalties. And that should be the game plan. Which, in hockey, usually lasts as long as it takes for something weird to happen, or 12.72 seconds in.

See you this evening, Leafs fans, and Go Leafs Go!

Update: Smith vs Andersen the confirmed starters.