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