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Photo Credit: Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 35.0: Turn the Ship Around (5pm MT, CBC)

Welcome, friends, to a fresh Saturday GDB as we all get ourselves set for the first matchup of the season between the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I don’t know about you guys, but there’s nothing more annoying in this physical universe that we occupy than when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. Not only are their fans ridiculous in almost every way, they’ve wasted more paper on unnecessary Cup parade plans over the years that I can’t help but feel like they’re directly contributing to global warming, but they also take over Rogers Place and turn the place into a sea of blue, a nauseating sight to say the least. And with the Oilers not playing at their best right now, the combination of a barn full of Leaves fans and a struggling Edmonton team could make for a trying evening if things go south. Needless to say, this game is incredibly important for the Oilers in terms of not only righting the ship and maintaining pace in the Pacific Division but also for saving our collective sanity from spiralling into a dark pit of despair.

With the Oilers coming into tonight’s game riding a three-game losing streak and the Leafs being one of the world’s most irritating opponents, I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk away from this night with two points. Not only do the Oilers desperately need to get back into the win column, but they also need to make sure that they’re ready to play in front of a nationally televised audience. I don’t want to sit through another night of embarrassment due to lack of preparation, ya know? But if we’re looking for bright sides, the Oilers have scored 10 goals over their last three games, including a few from the bottom six, and if they can keep that rolling then I trust that our top-end offensive players can outperform Toronto’s. It won’t be easy, but I think it’s doable. The real question here is whether or not the Oilers will get the saves they need to compete, because lately, the offence has been there but the goaltending has not and I don’t need to explain to anyone here why that’s a problem.

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During the 2018-19 season, the Leafs took both matchups against the Oilers, outscoring our boys by a nine to four margin. John Tavares led all skaters with two goals and five points over those two games, while Mitch Marner and William Nylander were next up with a goal and two assists each. From an Oilers perspective, Leon Draisaitl had three points (1G, 2A) in the season series while Connor McDavid chipped in with three assists.

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THE NUMBERS

OILERS LEAFS
RECORD 18-12-4 15-14-4
WIN/LOSS STREAK L3 L1
LAST 10 GAMES 4-5-1 6-4-0
GOALS FOR 105 106
GOALS AGAINST 105 108
POWER PLAY% 32.0 19.8
PENALTY KILL% 84.8 77.2
AVG. SHOTS/FOR 28.9 33.5
AVG. SHOTS/AGAINST 31.1 32.6
TEAM SAVE% .902 .901
CORSI FOR% 47.80 52.82
PDO 0.993 0.990
TEAM SHOOTING% 8.54 7.75
EXPECTED GOALS FOR% 48.66 49.97

Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian
Nygard – RNH – Chiasson
Neal – Haas – Gagner
Khaira – Sheahan – Archibald

Nurse – Bear
Klefbom – Larsson
Russell – Jones

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Koskinen

At yesterday’s practice, Mikko Koskinen was in the starter’s net and is looking like he’ll make his 18th start of the season. So far, Big Finnish Daddy has an 11-4-2 record with a 2.72 GAA, a .914 save% and one shutout. Up front, Dave Tippett reunited McDavid and Draisaitl on the first line with Zack Kassian while Markus Granlund slotted in alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson. That said, Joakim Nygard took a maintenance day yesterday, and should slot in on that second line provided he’s able to play. Either way, I’m going to go ahead and throw a few thoughts and prayers Nuge’s way for the linemates he’ll be working with tonight.

Leafs

Aberg – Matthews – Nylander
Hyman – Tavares – Marner
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Kapanen
Engvall – Spezza – Petan

Rielly – Barrie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Ceci

Andersen

Looking at the Leafs’ stats page, it’s quickly evident how much scoring depth they have throughout their lineup, especially their top nine forwards. Coming into tonight’s game, Toronto has 12 players on their roster with 10 or more points (the Oilers have nine) and it’ll be crucial for our boys to be mindful of the choices they’re making with the puck in all three zones on the ice. As we saw against Carolina and Minnesota, turnovers and odd-man rushes against can be killers and the Oilers will have to be much more aware of their puck management if they’re going to pull this thing out.

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WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Leafsnation:

Is there a reason to be optimistic?

Yeah, definitely, assuming your optimism is about the Leafs being an improved team and not necessarily landing in the playoffs. As much as the Leafs are improved under Sheldon Keefe, there seems to be accumulating evidence that the problems go beyond the coach and decisions will need to be made about what players fit with the future direction of the team and is this philosophy about how the team is built completely sound.

The Leafs will get help from Montreal, Buffalo, and Florida, in that all of them might simply collapse at some point and the Leafs could be gifted the final playoff spot in the Atlantic, but that’s a bonus not an expectation either.

It seems like the remainder of the season will be an exercise in Sheldon Keefe finding his footing in the NHL and the Leafs determining what personnel will be moving forward with the team next year, all of this is more than what anyone could have hoped for if we were still riding out the Babcock era.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: The Oilers come up with their best effort in weeks and send the Leafs packing with a 4-2 loss.

Obvious Game Day Prediction: Despite the availability of cheap tickets almost everywhere, Leafs fans will overpay for every seat they occupy.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Surprisingly, Leafs fans flock to the Bobby Nicks Burger because they seemingly love overpaying for everything.

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