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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 45.0: Quest for Consecutive Wins Continues (5pm MT, SNW)

It has been 43 days since the Edmonton Oilers won consecutive hockey games. They won on the road in Vegas and Arizona on November 23rd and 24th. Mike Smith was between the pipes for the first win, but gave way to Mikko Koskinen the next night. Edmonton has won two games in a row only four times since they started the season with a five-game winning streak.

They defeated Detroit and Philadelphia on October 16th and 18th.
They won in Columbus and Pittsburgh on October 30th and November 2nd.
Defeated New Jersey on November 8th and won in Anaheim on November 10th.
And won in Vegas and Arizona on the 23rd and 24th of November.

Mikko Koskinen was in the pipes for the Detroit and Philly wins. He also won against New Jersey and Anaheim, while Smith won both games in Columbus and Pittsburgh.

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Smith will look to win consecutive games since he defeated the Blue Jackets and Penguins over two months ago. He was excellent in Boston Saturday afternoon, stopping 35 of 36 shots, and tonight he will start three straight games for the first time this season. Koskinen was battling an illness in Buffalo and Boston. He is healthy tonight, but Dave Tippett elected to go back to Smith based on his performance in Boston.

After struggling for over a month Smith has looked solid the past two games. Tippett needs to rely on both goalies in February and March when the schedule gets condensed, so going back to Smith is a boost of confidence for the veteran. This is the first time this season Smith will start three games in a row.

But he will be in tough against the high-scoring Maple Leafs. The Leafs’ forwards have scored the most goals in the NHL, 138, and they’ve scored 49 goals in their past 10 games going 9-0-1. They are playing great hockey and tonight presents a massive challenge for not only Smith, but the entire team.

The Maple Leafs are now eighth overall in the NHL with 53 points. They are living up to the pre-season prognostications. The Oilers have played well against top-10 teams in the NHL.

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Edmonton is 7-5-1 against teams ranked #1-#10 in the standings.
They are 5-7-2 against teams ranked #11-#21. (The Oilers are in this group sitting 16th).
They are 10-5-2 against the 22nd to 31st ranked teams.

A victory tonight would give the Oilers 51 points and move them into 12th overall.

The challenge is the Maple Leafs have dominated Edmonton in recent history. Connor McDavid had five points in his first meeting against the Leafs in February, 2016. They won 5-2. But since then the Leafs have won seven in a row, including a 4-1 loss in Edmonton on December 14th.

McDavid only has six points in those seven games, while Leon Draisaitl has 1-3-4, but all four of his points have come in the past three meetings. Their top-two centres will need to be on the scoresheet, but also aware defensively if the Oilers hope to end their seven-game skid against the Maple Leafs.

The Maple Leafs’ offensive depth has been better, and that’s made this a bad matchup the past few seasons. Since the start of the 2016/2017 season the Leafs forwards have scored 839 goals, while Edmonton’s group produced 721. In 2017 the gap was 222-208, then in 2018 it was 238-197, then in 2019 it was 241-199 and this season it is 138-117.

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Edmonton doesn’t have the overall firepower to match, so they have to play a sound defensive game, capitalize on the PP and get good goaltending. Of course you’d like that every game, but against some teams, you need it much more. For instance, going into Boston on Saturday, the Bruins forwards combined only had six more goals than Edmonton. After the game it was down to four, and actually Edmonton only has three fewer EV goals than Boston’s forward group.

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If needed, Edmonton could afford to exchange chances with the Bruins and likely wouldn’t have gotten burned as much. Tonight they can’t. Toronto’s forwards have 101 EV goals while the Oilers have 80. It is a rather large gap, so Edmonton has to be sound defensively. They must avoid the glaring error or turnover that leads to a quality scoring chance.

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LINEUP…

Oilers

Neal-McDavid-Kassian
RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
Nygard-Haas-Chiasson
Khaira-Sheahan-Archibald

Klefbom- Larsson
Nurse-Bear
Jones-Russell

Smith

No lineup changes after a convincing 4-1 victory in Boston. Smith, Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse were excellent in Beantown and often when you have a dominant goalie, defender and forward in the same game your chances of winning are pretty good.

Leafs

Hyman-Matthews-Marner
Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander
Engvall-Spezza-Kapanen
Marchment-Brooks-Gauthier

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Rielly-Barrie
Dermott-Ceci
Marincin-Holl

Andersen

For a team who scores a lot, the Maple Leafs don’t draw many penalties. They are 29th in PP chances with 115. Edmonton is 18th with 132 powerplays.

Here is a look at how teams rank in PP chances, times shorthanded and the difference.

TEAM    PP OPP       TS          DIFF
COL         155          131        +24
VAN         153          137        +16
NJ            146          139         +7
NSH         143          131        +12
PHI          143           126       +17
NYR         139           153       -14
BOS         139           126       +12
CHI          137           129       +8
ARI          136           124       +12
MINN      136           126       +10
CAR         136           152       -16
LA            134           130       +4
DET          134           129       +5
FLO          133           110       +23
WSH        133           156       -23
TB            132           132         0
OTT          132          146        -14
EDM         132          125        +7
CBJ           131          120        +11
CGY          131          141        -10
BUFF        130          130          0
STL           128          129        -1
WPG         127          106       +21
SJ             126           146       -20
VEG          126           148       -22
DALL         122          146       -24
PITT          119          109       +10
ANA         116           133       -17
TOR          115          123        -8
MTL         113           125        -12
NYI           93            112        -19  

Edmonton is tied for 13th at +7, while Toronto is 21st at -8. I’ve never really bought into the theory “veteran teams get more calls” and this would back that up. Dallas, Washington, Vegas and NYI are four of the nine oldest teams (based on average age), yet they are the four of the worst PP/PK ratio teams in the NHL. San Jose has loads of veterans as well and they are fifth worst. Colorado is the youngest team in the NHL and they lead the league at +24. The defending champion St. Louis Blues have a negative rating as well, albeit only -1.

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To me, the bigger concern on infractions is how the skilled players, regardless of age, still deal with more non-hooking and obstruction calls. Matthews has only drawn four penalties all season for the Maple Leafs. He is second in the NHL in goals, and leads the league with 21 EV goals. It seems ridiculous he’s only drawn four penalties. McDavid at 19 seems low, so four is asininely low.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers play well, but lose in the third. Leafs win 4-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Someone on the broadcast tries to make the McDavid v. Matthews comparison. Why, I’m not sure.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Joakim Nygard scores. His first career goal against the Leafs, in his first game against them.

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