Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Day Quick Hits: Oilers at Maple Leafs

In today’s quick hits, we look ahead at tonight’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Games between the Leafs and Oilers are always exciting. I feel like there’s a rivalry here between Toronto and Edmonton that goes well beyond the force-fed narrative of Connor McDavid vs Auston Matthews. Edmonton fans hate it when the Leafs get endless coverage on national sports channels, and Toronto fans love to be cocky about it. The beef was noticeable back when the two teams met a couple weeks ago in Edmonton and many blue jerseys filled Rogers Arena. The final score was 6-4 and the action was endless. Last season, the teams met twice, Toronto won a thriller in overtime, a game infamous for Nazem Kadri’s defence on Connor McDavid, and the Leafs pulled out a 4-2 win in Edmonton a month after that. I can’t think of a Stanley Cup Final that would be more intense and entertaining than the Oilers and Leafs, though I’ll admit I’m biased.

2. Curtis McElhinney will get the start for the Leafs tonight. He’s made just four starts this season. Four! In those games, he’s faced 120 shots, an average of 30 per game, and he’s saved 108 of them, good for a .900 save percentage. Though its a ridiculously small sample size and it probably doesn’t mean anything, McElhinney has gone back-and-forth in his four starts, with one good showing then one bad showing. In his last start against Washington on Nov. 21, McElhinney allowed three goals on 20 shots. The game before on Nov. 11, he stopped 29 of 38 shots against Boston. If the pattern inexplicably continues, he’s up for a good game tonight.

3. The Leafs are tied for second in the league in goals for with 103. Through 30 games, they’re averaging 3.43 goals-per-game. The thing about Toronto is that they have a very balanced attack. Four players on their team, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Auston Matthews, and Patrick Marleau, have at least 10 goals, and they have eight forwards with at least five goals.

4. The Leafs are 2-2 in the second half of back-to-back games this season. Last night, they played the Penguins on the road and will return home to play Edmonton tonight. They’ve had two different situations like that this season. In October, they beat Detroit at home the night after beating Washington on the road, and a couple weeks ago, they lost to Washington at home the night after beating Carolina on the road. Edmonton is 1-1 in the second half of back-to-backs. One of them was a loss in which they heavily outplayed the Capitals in Washington, and the other was a statement win in Detroit after getting pounded by the Blues in St. Louis.

5. This game is a special teams mismatch. The Leafs have a very good power play, scoring at a 21.8 per cent rate, while the Oilers have the league’s worst penalty kill, as they’ve fought off just 72.2 per cent of opposing team’s power plays. This was a key in the game between the Oilers and Leafs a couple weeks ago. Toronto scored a power play goal early on to grab momentum, and scored another power play goal before the end of the second period right after Edmonton had tied the game. With a better kill, the Oilers likely come out on top.

6. If Edmonton’s penalty kill is going to be bad, the team needs to have better discipline. The Oilers currently spend more time in the box than 28 other teams in the league, as they average 11:04 penalty minutes a game. On the other hand, the Leafs spend just 7:49 in the box per game. Edmonton also ranks dead last in the league with just 76 power play opportunities. They have a -21 power play opportunity differential so far this season.

7. Another mismatch I’ve noticed digging through some stats is that the Leafs are one of the league’s best teams in the first period while the Oilers tend to struggle off the hop. Toronto ranks second in the league with 35 first period goals and Edmonton’s 31 goals against in the first period is the second-most in the league. I think everyone who follows the team is well aware of how slowly the Oilers tend to start games. This is a key thing for the Oilers to snap tomorrow because the Leafs are 15-4 when scoring first this season.

8. Last night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins did a video tribute for Leafs defenceman Ron Hainsey. Hainsey was acquired at the trade deadline by the Penguins and finally reached the playoffs for the first time in his 13-season NHL career. He played a key role on Pittsburgh’s blueline, logging 21 minutes per night en route to the team’s second of back-to-back Stanley Cups. It’s funny to me that Hainsey got a video tribute in Pittsburgh after just a few months with the team while Phil Kessel didn’t get a tribute in his return to Toronto. Kessel led the Leafs in scoring in each of the six seasons he played with the club.

9. William Nylander has been an interesting player to follow in Toronto this year. He’s obviously supremely a talented player, as he showed with a 61-point rookie season in 2016-17. But this season hasn’t gone according to plan. Nylander has just five goals, three at even strength in 30 games. He’s been relegated to the fourth line with Matt Martin and Dominic Brown while guys like Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and Leo Komarov continue to get playing time in the top six. Last night against the Penguins, Nylander played just over eight minutes and only had one shift in the third period.

10. If you haven’t watched Todd McLellan flip out at the Oilers on practice on Friday, here you go. During the broadcast in the game against Montreal, they mentioned that McLellan finally snapped as the team was struggling to execute breakout drills without forecheckers. Did McLellan giving it to the team motivate them to play better? The Oilers responded with what could have been their best game of the season against the Habs in Montreal.


Let’s show Vegas something they’ve never seen before—Alberta hockey fans.

Enter the Vegas Breakaway for a chance to win a trip for two to Las Vegas and tickets to a Golden Knights game. Enter to win at atb.com/vegas

Source:  NHL, Official Game Page, 12/10/2017 – 10:00am MST

  • ed from edmonton

    I was kind of hoping Ellis might draw in. I recall two seasons ago when the rolled into hog town when the buds had injury problems and had an AHL goalie in his 1st NHL game. He shut out the Oil, 1st time in bud’s history a goalie had a shutout in his 1st start. Of course McD was injured and the Oil had to rely on the likes of Hall and Ebs to get it done.

  • CMG30

    Last night we were treated to an Oilers team that showed up and was ready to play from the opening faceoff. How refreshing! However, I’ll be even more impressed if they can show up for at least 2 games in a row. We already know that they can play if they want to. Shouldn’t take a public scolding from your coach to get your poop together.

    Speaking of the public scolding, anyone else come to the realization that it was done for our benefit as much as the players? The way it was framed with the players conveniently standing to both sides, giving the camera an unobstructed view… nobody seemed to be in any trouble for ‘leaking’ a ‘secretly’ recorded cam of oilers practice of a coach dropping F bombs… a coach and GM under fire for a lackluster team… The narrative of ‘the coach has lost the room’ starting to pop up… Hard for fans to understand coaching, but hey, everyone likes to see that the coach is just as mad as they are, maybe we shouldn’t fire him ’cause look at him ‘coaching’…

    The whole thing was strangely media savvy with it getting picked up and talked about by every media outlet. Really reset the narrative.

    Ok, tinfoil hat off.

    In any event, they turned in an impressive performance. Time to see if this was a hard reset on team attitude or just a momentary swerve before diving headlong back into apathy.

  • Natti_89

    Let’s go boys! Looch and Drai finally got pts on the PP! Open the floodgates….hopefully. Just give those maple queefs a beat down….oh and win….yes do that please. Go Oil!

  • Mitch92

    This is an interesting scenario for the bookies to figure out. Leafs heading home off a big win where they almost gave up the lead late with their back-up poised to get his first start in three and a half weeks and the Oilers on the road coming off a huge win over the Habs with the habit of losing after a win. By rights the Oilers should walk all over the Leafs tonight but I will keep my money in my wallet for this tilt.

    • lee

      They are also dead last by a country mile when it comes to getting P.P
      If they keep the same pace, some teams will have 120 more P.P than the Oilers by seasons end.
      Pretty sure that will be some sort o record, maybe PC should call the league and ask how come there is such a huge difference. The Oilers could have had at least 2-3 more P.P if the reffs called the game by the book instead of how they feel.

  • camdog

    On road Oilers special teams are -3 goals for and the Leafs are a -3 at home. There is no special teams mis match in this game. At home the Leafs are 73% on penalty kill and the Oilers are 81.8% on road. Leafs powerplay at home is 21.2% and Oilers powerplay on road is 17.6%. Special teams are equal.

  • Serious Gord

    They need 70 points in 53 games. That’s a 660 winning percentage to make the playoffs.

    With playoffs out if the picture the team needs to achieve smaller victories to salvage the season. Winning a few in a row would be a big, little victory.