Edmonton Oilers @ Toronto Maple Leafs
7:00 p.m. E.T. Wednesday on Sportsnet and NBCSN (national broadcast - no blackout)
7:00 p.m. E.T. Friday on TSN4, SNW, and ESPN+ (blackouts in effect for the Leafs region)
SB Nation Opponent’s site: Copper and Bitter Blue
The Leafs face the Oilers Wednesday night for the first of nine games this season, and four of those nine are over the next eleven days. Yes, we will see the Oilers at Scotiabank Arena twice this week, and then watch the Leafs at Rogers Arena in Edmonton twice next week. Welcome to the compressed and shortened NHL season, and also the reason why we are experimenting with game previews in pairs today.
Let’s begin this series with a very simplified analysis of the Oilers’ start to the season: they have one win in four games played. The Red Wings, the consensus worst team in the league—though the Blackhawks and Kings might have something to say about that—also have four points in four games.
The Red Wings are leaning on a very past-his-prime Bobby Ryan to lead their offence, and even he has managed four goals in three games this season, which happens to be one more than Connor McDavid has managed this season while once again watching his Hall of Fame potential career die off in the frozen wastelands of Edmonton.
You might be asking how I can use such a small sample of games to evaluate the Oilers’ chances of success this season. That’s a valid question. My response is: don’t ask me, ask the Oilers fans. They’ve seen this start before, and they know how it ends; out of the playoffs. They are already quitting on the team! It’s not pretty over there. These last two losses against the Habs have already left them pretty broken for this season.
Projected Leafs Lines
(from practice on Tuesday, source: Kristen Shilton)
Joe Thornton - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Jimmy Vesey
Ilya Mikheyev - Alex Kerfoot - Zach Hyman
[double-shift slot] - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian
[Mikko Lehtonen as seventh defenceman if Adam Brooks is scratched]
Frederik Andersen is the presumed starter
This is the same configuration projected for the last Leafs game, with a seventh defender in place of Adam Brooks as a twelfth forward. Sheldon Keefe probably won’t pick which configuration to use until game time.
Projected Oilers Lines
(based on previous game, with Bear subbing in for Koekkoek, source: Jack Michaels)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Connor McDavid - Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun - Leon Draisaitl - Kailer Yamamoto
Joakim Nygard - Kyle Turis - Jesse Puljujarvi
Josh Archibald - Devin Shore - Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse - Ethan Bear
Kris Russell - Tyson Barrie
Slater Koekkoek - Adam Larsson
Mikko Koskinen is presumed starter
Who even knows the backup
If you want a more concrete look at the Oilers continuing dysfunction to start to the new season, check out the what happened in their last game against the Canadians and their power play. It was a ridiculously penalty filled game so there were a lot of them, and they all featured one Tyson Barrie, someone who you have heard of, but have probably tried to forget.
In that game the Oilers had a ridiculous 11:34 of 5-on-4 time and they didn’t convert that into even one goal. In fact, the Habs got one shorthanded in that time. The Oilers managed only one Corsi-for event every 45 seconds of those power plays, and of those only eight turned into shots that weren’t blocked or missed the net entirely.
The Oilers are obviously hurting with the loss of Oscar Klefbom, and Mike Smith, though, I don’t think Smith was really going to turn the tide of any game in their favour to begin with.
This still doesn’t explain how they are so disorganised they can’t make anything at all happen with so many opportunities. The Leafs have a clear path to take advantage of them this week, though expecting that much PP time again is obviously a bit of a stretch. You can also never count out McDavid. The Leafs recognise this.
Justin Holl on defending Connor McDavid: "He was definitely a major focal point of our meeting in terms of a guy that's really dangerous and has the ability to break games open so it's going to be a full team effort."— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 20, 2021
Everyone in Edmonton has an idea about the top line and whether Leon Draisaitl should play with McDavid to make an absolutely dominating and terrifying duo... with Kassian along to watch from the back, or if they should be split up. Honestly, I can’t parse out what is the best option for them, but the Draisaitl—Nugent-Hopkins—Yamamoto group also does good work on the ice. Yamamoto especially appears to be coming into his own right now as a top-six player. They need to sort this out, but I expect they will instead keep blending the lines to experiment right to the bitter end.
Also sitting out for Edmonton in their last game was Ethan Bear, and that was viewed by many as some kind of punishment for an error in the Oilers previous game which led to a Canadiens goal. It’s a pretty big punishment for a team that’s off to a rocky start and not really much of a message anymore beyond “screwing the team to make a point to one player totally worked one time as a coaching method 40 years ago!” The Edmonton beat writers say Bear will be back tonight. I subbed Koekkoek down to the third line, but Koekkoek is also pretty good. We’ve seen him here in Toronto a lot at Marlies games from his time in the Lightning system on the Syracuse Crunch. If Tippet were smart he would cut his losses and scratch Barrie for Koekkoek instead. I expect this actually will happen at some point in their season.
This series is a big moment for both teams. A Leafs win cements them as meeting the positive expectations established before the season. An Oilers loss exacerbates the negative expectations fans have developed since the start of the season.
What will happen in the next two games?
|An easy two wins for the Leafs.||49|
|They’ll split the two games... the Oilers have to win sometime.||202|
|The Leafs will be embarrassed with two losses and we will all be back to exasperated.||48|
|We will be glad we got rid of Tyson Barrie.||137|