Game 34: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers
Date: Saturday, March 27, 2021
Time:  7:00 PM
Place: Scotiabank Arena
Channel: CBC - HNIC game, free to stream at CBC Gem

Game 35: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Edmonton Oilers
Date: Monday, March 29, 2021
Time: 7:00 PM
Place: Scotiabank Arena
Channel: Sportsnet

Time drags when you’re not having fun, doesn’t it? When last these two teams played, the Leafs dominated Edmonton in three straight games and looked poised to cruise to the first seed, while Edmonton seemed confused and upset. Since then, however, the Leafs have lost a number of winnable games due to a modest scoring slump and bad goaltending, while the Oilers have surged. They come to town tonight only two points back of Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand.

Speaking of abrupt changes, here’s a song that goes in about six different directions.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Joe Thornton - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Wayne Simmonds
Zach Hyman - Pierre Engvall - Ilya Mikheyev
Alex Galchenyuk - Alex Kerfoot - Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian
Jack Campbell
Michael Hutchinson

Lines are care of Kristen Shilton.

Sheldon Keefe is going with a balanced forward lineup, reuniting a top six that seemed to have success early in the season, bringing back the odd but surprisingly competent HEM line, and throwing the remaining players down on the fourth line where they might be overqualified. The game with Edmonton is usually to saw off as best you can against their elite top players and then feast on their feeble bottom six, so you can see what Keefe might be going for here.

The defence, by contrast, is pretty set by this point in the year. Jack Campbell will try to keep up the superlative play that may well win him the starting goalie job. Michael Hutchinson will hopefully sit on the bench all night.

Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi
Dominik Kahun - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archiabld - Gaetan Haas - Zack Kassian
Devin Shore - Jujhar Khaira - Alex Chiasson
Darnell Nurse - Tyson Barrie
William Lagesson - Adam Larsson
Kris Russell - Ethan Bear
Mike Smith
Mikko Koskinen

Lines care of Daily Faceoff.

The Oilers, led by two of the most dangerous players in history, are still working through the same basic issue they’ve faced for several years now: their forward depth is bad. They need their top six to put up enormous margins on the competition, while their depth tries to make nothing happen until the top players go back out again. It’s worked decently well this year; Connor McDavid is running away with the Hart Trophy, while Leon Draisaitl remains a dynamite offensive player, and Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins can anchor a solid second line. But the Leafs should be looking at that bottom six and hoping to annihilate it.

The defence isn’t very good. I guess Nurse-Barrie has worked well enough this year, and I sure hope the Oilers pay Tyson Barrie based on his inflated point total. Adam Larsson is in decline but still helps slow the game down, which is why Dave Tippett doesn’t play him with McDavid much.

In net, Mike Smith has had a remarkable late-career resurgence after two seasons where he looked finished. He turned 39 last week, and has the best save percentage he’s had in nine years. I wouldn’t bet on that lasting forever, but as long as it does, he gives the Oilers enough to go along with their ridiculous elite offence.

Edmonton is pretty good. They may well be the second-best team in the North division, and I’m sure they’re aching to prove they ought to be first. Seems like a great night to show some killer instincts, Toronto.

Go Leafs Go!