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Preview: Leafs go west for 3 Games vs the Oilers

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Will Auston Matthews play?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Maple Leafs face the Edmonton Oilers in three straight games.

Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

HNIC game available on CBC, TVAS, Sportsnet, City and NHLN as well as streaming on the NHL Live service, SN Now and CBC Gem (free in Canada).

Monday, March 1 at 10:00 p.m.

Sportsnet 1, Sportsnet Ontario and Sportsnet West as well as streaming on NHL Live and SN NOW (subject to blackouts).

Wednesday, March 3 at 8:00 p.m.

Sportsnet, TVAS as well as streaming in the usual places.


Friday’s practice left a lot hanging in the air before the Leafs flew out to Edmonton. It was heavily implied that Jack Campbell would start the Saturday game, and beyond that, nothing is certain. Frederik Andersen is day-to-day and is on the trip, however. The Wednesday game is the first half of a back-to-back, so there’s a motivation here to get someone else in one of the games, likely the second half in Vancouver.

Joe Thornton is almost certainly a go, as is Jake Muzzin, although all of that was left as game-time decisions. The Alex Barabanov in the top-six experience will continue, and it’s almost certain Jimmy Vesey will be a healthy scratch in the first game. Whatever people think about Vesey, it’s just nice to have enough players to scratch one.

Adam Brooks did not play in the Friday night disaster as the Marlies lost 8-1 to the Stockton Heat in Calgary. There is a possibility that Brooks, who has played every other Marlies game so far, will be brought to the Taxi Squad for the road trip, since he was just up the road.

The Alex Barabanov situation is very interesting. He appeared in seven games playing between four and eight minutes on the fourth line. He shot the puck twice in those games for a total Expected Goals on the shots of 0.24. In the three games he’s played between eight and 12 minutes as a quasi-top-six player, he’s shot the puck 10 times, for seven SOG. The total Expected Goals on those shots is 0.51.

Everyone says he’s so much better in this role, and I would hope so. If a player gets worse playing with John Tavares, something is really weird. But is he effective, and more so than Vesey? Or is it just a change for the sake of making the point that Vesey isn’t really up to this task.

If you missed the news, Auston Matthews is day-to-day with his wrist injury and did not practise on Friday. Line rushes from the practice show us the “without Auston Matthews” structure of the team:

Maple Leafs Lines

Joe Thornton - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Alex Barabanov - Alexander Kerfoot - William Nylander
Zach Hyman - Pierre Engvall - Ilya Mikheyev
Nic Petan - Travis Boyd - Jason Spezza

Morgan Rielly - TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian

Jack Campbell or Michael Hutchinson

If Matthews is in the game, one potential arrangement is:

Joe Thornton - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Zach Hyman - Pierre Engvall - Ilya Mikheyev
Alex Barabanov - Travis Boyd - Jason Spezza

I set this up in this way because I’m leaning towards the idea that Kerfoot as the illusive top-six winger the Leafs need is the obvious way to go. The need that’s opened up then is some kind of centre for the third line, and one option for that actually is Alex Galchenyuk. Another is Engvall with Galchenyuk replacing Mikheyev, and Mikheyev.... well, that’s a conversation for another day, but Galchenyuk, just on what he produced in Ottawa, is a better five-on-five player than Mikheyev in the offensive zone.

There is no official timeline on when Galchenyuk will play, but one has to think a nice late game in Vancouver would be ideal if everyone is worried about his confidence.

UPDATE:

So, it wasn’t Adam Brooks who was added for the road trip after all. That’s an interesting swap between the Marlies and the squad, but the Marlies are coming home, so that leaves Galchenyuk in the hands of the training staff in Toronto.


Meanwhile, the Oilers have lost Slater Koekkoek to injury since we last met, and Zack Kassian is also on LTIR. James Neal has been on waivers, the Taxi Squad and now seems to just be a healthy or possibly a mysteriously injured scratch. They’ve got Mike Smith back in the net, however, and he’s been on a hot streak, so they’ve been able to stop overusing Mikko Koskinen.

Their standard lines at the moment are:

Edmonton Oilers Lines

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi
Dominik Kahun - Leon Draisaitl - Kailer Yamamoto
Tyler Ennis - Jujhar Khaira - Josh Archibald
Evan Bouchard - Gaetan Haas - Alex Chiasson

Darnell Nurse - Tyson Barrie
Kris Russel - Adam Larsson
Caleb Jones - Ethan Bear

Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen


What should we expect? Maybe more of that low-event counterattacking tactics we got in the first series the Leafs played against the Oilers. It was erroneously called good defence, but it was actually just obsessive checking of the top line on each team at the expense of all other action. It looked like the ice was covered in honey and the players on both teams were trying not to lose.

Of the four Leafs-Oilers games so far this season, all were tied at five-on-five and decided by special teams. Toronto owns the power play advantage at 5 goals to one, but at no time have the Leafs actually held a full-game Expected Goals advantage over the Oilers (by Evolving Hockey’s model. By Natural Stat Trick’s they just get to claim one game).

Whether it’s the Oilers themselves, the way the Leafs were playing them or some combination of both the results have seen the Leafs not taking very good shots. Two of the games vs the Oilers remain the worst offensive games for the Leafs this year.

The key for the Leafs in this series is obviously to shoot more, and from better locations without completely letting the Oilers dominate when they have the puck. No matter how ready Jack Campbell is, the job is to outscore Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. And that’s not easy. It’s even harder if the Leafs only have one real top line.

Points going into this game:

  1. McDavid - 40
  2. Draisaitl - 34
  3. Matthews - 31
  4. P. Kane - 31
  5. Marner - 30