Edmonton is in last place in the NHL, a position the team has spent far too much time in over the last few seasons, and a 0-2-1 start to the current road-trip didn’t help. But the Oilers managed to squeak out a win over Pittsburgh on Saturday, and consequently they have a chance to leapfrog three teams tonight if they can manage a win over Toronto.
A win would move Edmonton past inactive Calgary, and a regulation win would also obviously see the Oilers pass Toronto, too. The Avalanche are visiting the Islanders tonight, and if they lose they too would fall behind a victorious Edmonton team.
That’s where things get interesting. The Oilers return to Edmonton for a five-game homestand on Wednesday. A win against the Leafs and something like a 3-1-1 performance over that homestand and the club could find itself at 27 points in 29 games. Obviously, that’s not going to get them back into the playoff picture, but teams like Columbus, Carolina, Anaheim, Buffalo and Philadelphia might be vulnerable.
This is probably Edmonton’s best chance at a run to alter their fortunes this season, and it starts in Toronto tonight. A good performance over these six games and possibilities open up. A bad performance, and it’s time to start researching the 2016 Draft (if it isn’t already).
Line combinations courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com, the best source for all your daily fantasy hockey news.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 30, 2015
No changes expected for the Oilers, nor should there be. That top line is functioning beautifully and should be left intact, whatever the consequences to the rest of the team. The second line—last season’s top line—isn’t exactly burning down opposition arenas but there isn’t much choice but to stick with them, as the bottom-six doesn’t really provide a wealth of options to help kick-start a struggling offensive line.
Ideally, Lauri Korpikoski fills that role but Korpikoski has been a puck possession nightmare and last scored an even-strength point on October 21, so that’s a non-starter. Matt Hendricks is the other option, but Todd McLellan seems to have turned to him and Lander as a defensive zone starts duo and it’s hard to argue with that.
Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle will just have to play their way out of that lines’ current struggles.
The defence stays intact, and that’s probably a good thing, too. Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse have had some ups and downs but the young defenceman is finding his way quickly and the older one is the best veteran mentor option on the team. Giving Oscar Klefbom a stay-at-home partner seems to have encouraged him to be more active on offence, and it’s worth noting that his game (which was hit-and-miss early in the year) has stabilized considerably over Justin Schultz’s absence. Schultz is still working his way back after a back injury cost him time, so a lesser role and a partner like Brandon Davidson (who has been very good) makes sense.
Toronto lacks high-end offensive creators up front, but the team has pretty good depth and the third- and fourth-line matchups are going to be dangerous for an Oilers team that’s missing a bunch of important players up front. Old friend Martin Marincin has only just worked his way back into the rotation on the blue line; he’s pointless on the season but he should be motivated to show up his old team.
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) November 29, 2015
Garret Sparks, who has awesome pads and is the Leafs’ equivalent of Laurent Brossoit, will get the start.
What They’re Saying
The Toronto Maple Leafs have an interesting game ahead of them on Monday. The Edmonton Oilers keep finding new ways to be the laughing stock of the National Hockey League, and rookie goaltender Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut. Joffrey Lupul, however, will sit this one out to rest an unspecified ailment.
The “laughing stock” line is, of course, correct. But one imagines it rings a little hollow in Toronto.
Game day prediction: Toronto has lost three straight and allowed four goals in each of their last two games. I’m going to say that Sparks helps change that and the Leafs come away with a 3-2 overtime win.
Obvious game day prediction: Hey, look, an ex-Oiler! Obviously this is the time for Marincin to rediscover all that offence he seems to have left behind in the AHL. He’ll score for the Leafs, and if I have to pick which goal I’m going to say it’s that overtime winner.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Cam Talbot’s had a tough year and he’s ready for a change. Watching Sparks from the bench, he’s going to fall in love with his unconventional pad design, and order a set for himself. Sometime after the Christmas break, we’ll see him return to Edmonton’s net sporting an alternating blue-and-white checks design.