I understand why many are pumping up tonight’s game as Auston Matthews versus Connor McDavid. They are both first overall picks. McDavid won three major NHL awards last year, while Matthews scored 40 goals as a rookie. Both are extremely exciting players and are the stars of their respective teams.
This season McDavid has 30 points in 25 games, while Matthews has 24 points in 22 games. It makes sense to use that angle, but will they go head-to-head tonight, or will McDavid see more of Nasem Kadri?
Last year McDavid played 32:16 at 5×5 versus the Maple Leafs in two games.
He played 9:45 heads up against Matthews and it was pretty much even.
They were 11-11 in Corsi For-Corsi Against, it was 8-8 in Fenwick F-A, shots F/A were 6-5 for McDavid and scoring chances were 8-6 in favour of Matthews. There were no goals when they were on the ice head-to-head.
He played 16:58 versus Kadri and Kadri had more success. He was 18-12 in CF-CA, 15-6 in FF-FA, 9-4 in SF-SA, 12-4 in SCF-SCA and 2-1 in goals.
Much has been made about Kadri’s success in the matchup, specifically the game in Toronto last November, when he scored the OT winner against McDavid. It adds something extra to the game.
McDavid scored 2-3-5 against the Leafs the first time he played them on February 2nd, 2016, and has seven points in three career games, so McDavid hasn’t struggled mightily by any stretch. But Kadri had a great game against him. He, and every centre like him, relishes the opportunity to face McDavid, because if you contain him, people notice. If McDavid has a great game it isn’t nearly as surprising and few would say he owned Kadri, because McDavid dominating a game or individual matchup occurs frequently.
That game in Toronto was talked about a lot because of where it was played, and how well Kadri played. He deserved the accolades, and while Kadri wants the challenge again tonight, he knows the odds of a repeat are low.
The other interesting note from the two games last year was how often the Morgan Reilly-Nikita Zaitsev pairing faced McDavid. Reilly played 24:30 and Zaitsev 24:10 of the possible 32:16 of 5×5 time. The next highest D-man was Connor Carrick at 4:19. Babcock worked hard to get them out against McDavid.
Tonight, however, Reilly has a new partner in veteran Ron Hainsey. I assume they will get the bulk of the matchup, but I wonder if the Jake Gardiner-Zaitsev pairing sees some time as well. We’ve seen teams go out of their way to get the defence matchup they want against McDavid, but he still finds ways to produce.
While much of the hype will be Matthews versus McDavid, and deservedly so, Matthews will face Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson much more while Reilly-Hainsey will see McDavid. Kadri will get some time as well, and knowing how competitive McDavid is he will want to show everyone getting the upperhand on him will not be a regular occurrence for Kadri or the Maple Leafs.
The big change is in goal. Cam Talbot was placed on IR this morning and Todd McLellan said he will be out at least two weeks, so Laurent Brossoit has the opportunity every player hopes for — a chance to be the guy. “It is unfortunate for Cam, but I’m excited. I won’t make it bigger than it is. It is just another start and I need to play well,” said Brossoit.
It is a similar situation to what Talbot found himself in with the New York Rangers in 2014/2015. Henrik Lundqvist got injured in late January and Talbot became the starter for two months, beginning February 4th. He’d had three starts in the six weeks prior to Lundqvist’s injury.
He went 2-2-1 in his first five starts and his sv% in those first five games was .900, .870, .880, .882 and .897. But then he got comfortable and in his next 18 starts he had a .938sv%. He wasn’t great right away, but the Rangers stuck with him and he got back into the rhythm of being a starting goalie.
The Rangers were 30-15-4 when Talbot took over the starting job. They were a good team and he was 16-5-3 in 24 games as the starter. Talbot didn’t have the pressure to try and turn a season around, he just needed to keep the ship afloat.
I’m not saying Brossoit will become as good as Talbot. Talbot had excellent numbers before Lundqvist went down with an injury, but I’m curious to see how Brossoit handles this opportunity. Is he ready? Can he handle it? Will the coaching staff stick with him if he has an off night or two? We shall see.
Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira return to the lineup, with Puljujarvi getting the spot every winger wants — on McDavid’s wing — while Khaira practiced yesterday on the first powerplay unit. Both of them have an opportunity to make an impact. We’ll see if they can.
Matthews didn’t skate this morning, he has a cold, but Babcock said he will play. Hainsey is a solid veteran, but after a strong start he has started to slow down according to the Toronto scribes I spoke with this morning. If Reilly-Hainsey get a heavy dose of McDavid, I think it could be an advantage for the Oilers. I like Reilly a lot, but I’d attack Hainsey.
Also, watch for the Leafs to dump and chase more than you’d expect. They have done it much more recently.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Well, the first thing that we discovered is that Leon Draisaitl is more Conor Sheary than Evgeni Malkin, and he seems entirely reliant on McDavid creating offensive opportunities for him. It sure would be embarrassing if the Oilers were paying him $8.5M a season to do what Chris Kunitz was doing for half of that. Milan Lucic, not to be confused with the Serbian war criminal of the same name, has managed just 4 goals this season, and at $6M a year you don’t have to be noted Edmonton capologist Dustin Nielson to know his goals/$ are ungood.
It’s hard to pin down where everything went wrong for the Oilers, and by hard, I mean incredibly easy. This is entirely Peter Chiarelli’s doing.
Since pushing the Ducks to seven games in the second round of last season’s playoffs, Chiarelli has completed the following transactions:
re-signed Kris Russell to four years at $4M
re-signed Leon Draisaitl at $8.5M/yr
re-signed Eric Gryba, a move that probably didn’t even make sense to Gryba
Bought out Benoit Pouliot and replaced him with unused cap space
traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, 1 for 1 (LOL)
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Building has more of a buzz in it. Oilers fans will try to drown out the Go Leafs Go chants and the energy in building will be heightened. Oilers continue their recent streak of bad-good-bad-good-bad (even though the defeated Arizona) and play well tonight and win 5-4.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid picks up his ninth multi-point game of the season and fifth in his last nine games. He maintains his career goal-per-game pace versus the Leafs.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Maroon scores his first career goal versus the Maple Leafs, leaving only Anaheim, Buffalo and Carolina as teams he hasn’t scored against.
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 11/30/2017 – 1:30pm MST