The Oilers are one win away from setting a new season-high with five-consecutive wins. In their way are the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team who hammered them in the middle of their otherwise-successful road trip last week.
1. The game against the Leafs last Wednesday was the only blemish on an otherwise very successful five-game road trip for the Oilers. They kicked things off with a gritty shootout loss in Nashville without Connor McDavid, they then got slammed 6-2 by the Leafs, and have since won four games in a row against Ottawa, Columbus, Buffalo, and Vancouver. The loss to the Leafs also represents Edmonton’s only regulation loss since Andrej Sekera was activated from the Injured Reserve and the Oilers have been able to roll out their ideal top-six blueline. They’re 6-1-2 in that stretch.
2. The loss in Toronto was an excellent lesson in what the Oilers lack — high-quality depth. While the Oilers had a very good first period, highlighted by Leon Draisaitl’s highlight reel goal, the Leafs quickly took over the game in the second period. That team can send wave after wave after wave of skilled forwards at their opponents, making it difficult to stop their attack. I thought Auston Matthews was invisible against the Oilers, but, unlike when Connor McDavid has an off game, there’s a wealth of players there to pick up the slack.
3. The difference between the two teams is shown in the depth each side featured. The Oilers have the better top end duo, in my opinion, as McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are better than any two players on the Leafs you can put together, but Toronto absolutely dominates Edmonton after that. The Oilers have just five players with 10 or more goals while the Leafs have 10. Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, two players who play up and down the lineup, both have 19 goals, old man Patrick Marleau has 14, shutdown third-line centre Nazem Kadri has 15, and even Tyler Ennis, a fourth-liner who was added in the off-season on a cheap deal, has 12. Ennis, a guy who many didn’t think would even crack the roster, would be tied with Zack Kassian for fifth on the Oilers in goals.
4. While the Leafs are potent offensively, they certainly aren’t without flaw. The team ranks 10th in the league in goals against, but much of that is a testament to Frederik Andersen’s excellent goaltending. Andersen owns a .923 save percentage on the season and makes Toronto’s defence look better than it actually is. The Leafs rank 24th in the league in shots against in all situations, right in between the Red Wings and Sabres. Their blueline isn’t the complete disaster many critics of the team would suggest, but it isn’t a strength either. Andersen certainly compensates for a lot.
5. While the Oilers are in a battle for the playoffs, the Leafs are engaged in a battle for home ice advantage, so this game is important for both teams. The Oilers are seven points behind the Wild with two games in hand, meaning they can bring themselves to within just three points if they win both of those games. The Leafs, on the other hand, are four points behind the Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division. It’s inevitable both of these teams are going to meet in the first round, but the race now is for home-ice advantage.
6. As of right now (Friday afternoon), three of the top five teams in the league in points are in the same division. Nobody is in the same world as Tampa Bay, who are running away with the Atlantic, but the Bruins and Leafs rank second and fifth respectively in the NHL. It’s very likely the second- and third-seeded teams in the East, Boston and Toronto, will play in the first round. While Boston and Toronto is a great matchup, is it a bad thing for the league to have it happen so quickly? Personally, I like the current format because it forces these rivalries. Toronto would have to beat Boston or Tampa Bay to advance to the Cup Final regardless, so who cares if it comes in the second or third round after some random, meaningless series against, like, Carolina? I like that the divisional format guarantees that we’ll see intense matchups like Toronto and Boston and Pittsburgh and Washington pretty much no matter what.
7. Leafs fans hate the format because they’re terrified they’re going to have another first-round exit to deal with this summer. The team hasn’t made it out of the first round since before the Salary Cap era, as a first-round win over the Ottawa Senators in 2004 punched their most recent ticket to the second round.
8. Connor McDavid has faced his hometown Leafs six times since entering the NHL. The first game came with a bang as McDavid put up five points on the Leafs in a 5-2 win. But that was a different Leafs team than the one we’re watching now. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick led the team in ice time that game and P.A. Parenteau led the team in goals that season. Since then, the Leafs have won all five matchups between the two teams and McDavid has just four points.
9. Auston Matthews hasn’t done much on the big stage against McDavid, either. In four career games against the Oilers, the 2016 first-overall pick has just four points. Toronto’s best performer against Edmonton has probably been Nazem Kadri, who has effectively shut down McDavid and has two game-winning goals, one of which came in overtime.
10. I might be off base on this, but I feel like the Maple Leafs are the most disliked team among Oilers fans. While you’d think it would be the provincial rival Calgary Flames, there seems to be a more intense animosity towards the Leafs and their fanbase than there is towards Calgary and the Flames. I think a lot of it comes down to Leafs fans and Toronto-based mainstream media’s condescending-yet-unaware attitude towards everything that happens outside of the world’s hockey mecca. I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I bet most Oilers fans would be even more perturbed watching the Leafs win the Stanley Cup than they would be watching the Flames win it all.
From peewee to the pros, Albertans loves the atmosphere, energy, and life lessons that take place at rinks across the province. And where there’s an arena, you’ll find an ATB branch nearby—with our team members cheering and fundraising along with you. See more information at ATB.com.
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 3/9/2019 – 7:00 am MT