Ideally your team would win every game, but since no North American pro team other than the 1972 Miami Dolphins has done that, fans expect their team will lose a few games. There are certain games, however, where you desperately want your team to win. Tonight is one of those for Oilers’ fans.
The Oilers don’t play the Leafs very often, 90 times in 33 NHL seasons, but they are an easy organization to dislike. They haven’t won a Stanley Cup in 46 years; they will extend that to 47 years in June, yet their fanbase acts like they are the darling franchise of the NHL.
My late father’s favourite player was Dick Duff, great name, so there was no love for the Maple Leafs in our house. Dad wasn’t a diehard Habs fan, but he loathed the Maple Leafs and I’m thankful I inherited the same disdain for the Leafs.
They’ve had some players I enjoyed watching: Borje Salming, Mike Palmateer, Wendel Clark and Tie Domi to name a few, but when their own captain, Mats Sundin, screws them over like he did it is clear even the players don’t respect the organization.
Due to my job, I’m not a fan of the Oilers, but there are certain games where my inner-Edmontonian appears and I watch the game hoping the opposition sucks the hind banana. Tonight is one of those nights.
Oilers fans have endured a lot of losing the last decade, yet you still find the strength to turn on the TV and watch the Blue and Orange. The Oilers are making a rare early appearance on Hockey Night In Canada, and an Oiler victory could turn your evening into a "runaway" very quickly.
For your sake, and the sake of every drinking establishment in Edmonton, I hope it happens.
The Oilers recalled Philip Larsen yesterday and sent Denis Grebeshkov down for a conditioning stint. Larsen is a natural RD, and he could give the Oilers more offence from the back end. He likely won’t play tonight, but you will see Ladislav Smid back with Jeff Petry and Anton Belov back on the right side playing with Nick Schultz.
Eakins said if Jesse Joensuu is ready to go, he will play. That likely means Ryan Smyth or Luke Gazdic comes out of the lineup. Smyth scored the only goal last game, so it might be hard to take him out, however, the Oilers claimed Gazdic so when they played a team like Toronto they would have a heavyweight. It wll be interesting to see if Joensuu is ready, who Eakins sits.
***UPDATE*** Yakupov will be a healthy scratch.*** Clearly Eakins is making a statement regarding the 2nd Montreal goal last game.
Dubnyk played better on Thursday, but he’ll need to be very good for the Oilers to skate away with a win. Jonathan Bernier has stopped 113 of 116 shots, .974SV%, and many Leafs fans are already writing his Vezina trophy speech. Remember when Nikolai Khabibulin had a .960 SV% at the end of October, 2011. How did that season end?
Bernier has played 3 1/2 games, and he’s been stellar, but if the Leafs continue to give up 35 shots a game his numbers will drop significantly.
- Hall, RNH, Eberle, Perron, Hemsky and Yakupov need to capitalize on their chances. The Leafs are surrendering 34.8 shots per game thus far.
- The Leafs draw a lot of penalties and their PP is red-hot, 28.6%. The Oilers will need to keep their feet moving and not take stick infractions. The Leafs have drawn 15 tripping, hooking, slashing and interference penalties thus far. The Oilers will need to skate with them.
- Kessel leads the Leafs with 6 points in 5 games, and he’s 2nd in the NHL in shots with 26. Eakins must avoid having his 4th line out against them.
- The 4th line has to stop icing the puck, or they will see a lot of Kessel’s line. It is clear Gadzik has been told to just get the puck out of the zone, but he has to stop icing it, or at the very least take a few extra strides, get to centre and then dump it in. He’s iced the puck too often so far.
- Eberle has five goals in four games vs. the Leafs. I sense he or Yakupov will end their goal-scoring drought tonight.
- Previous meetings between these two clubs have no impact on tonight’s game, but the Oilers have scored 3 or more goals in their last 5 games in Toronto. Hopefully we see a high-scoring game tonight.
- The Western conference is 18-5-2 vs. the East thus far. Both the Oilers and Leafs are 1-1 in inter-conference play.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers skate away with a 4-3 victory and silence the Vezina talk of Bernier.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: This is the easy, if Gazdic plays, he and Colton Orr drop the mitts early in the first period. If he sits, then I’ll go with the other obvious prediciton; Joffrey Lupul, a former Oiler, scores against his Oilers.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Jeff Petry averages a point-per-game against the Leafs. He’s only played them twice, but he has a goal and an assist. Petry will actually use his heavy slap shot tonight, and he’ll beat Bernier for his 2nd goal of the season.