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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 6.0: Sweep the Leafs (5pm MT, SNW)

The term “sweep the leg” became popular from the 1984 classic film, The Karate Kid. When protagonist Daniel Russo was fighting Johnny in the final of the All Valley Karate Championships, Russo had a serious left leg injury and Johnny’s Sensei, Kreese, instructed him to “sweep the leg.”

Essentially, do whatever it takes to win, regardless of how dirty it is.

Here is the scene if you need to be inspired by the determination and brilliance of a young Russo. Never give up kids, never give up.

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While Johnny wasn’t successful in his plan, the Oilers need to enter tonight’s game expecting to “Sweep the Leafs.”

Toronto enters tonight banged up. Auston Matthews is out with upper body soreness, while Joe Thornton is out a month with a fractured rib from a Josh Archibald hit. That is two-thirds of their top line. I realize Thornton isn’t the superstar he was, but he is still a regular in their top-six and had played the sixth most minutes 5×5 and overall.

It means Alex Kerfoot has to matchup against Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Matthews and McDavid went head-to-head for 12 minutes at 5×5 on Wednesday, while Draisaitl played five minutes each against Kerfoot and John Tavares.

I’d expect Kerfoot and Hyman to play with Marner, as they are quick and skilled, but that is a much smaller trio than Thornton/Matthews/Marner and McDavid’s line should have an advantage if they play up to their capabilities.

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The trickle down effect is where injuries usually hurt teams. Hyman moving back to the top-six isn’t a drop off from Thornton, but Kerfoot is a downgrade from Matthews, and there is more: who will fill the spots of Hyman and Kerfoot? Jason Spezza becomes the third line centre tonight while Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks and Alex Barabanov will draw in at forward. Barabanov plays his third game and he’s only averaged just over five minutes/game in his first two games, while Brooks plays his first this season.

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It isn’t Matthews’ skill the Leafs will miss as much as the number of minutes he plays. Kerfoot and Spezza will need to play more and Edmonton needs to win those matchups.

They need a “sweep the leg” mentality from the opening faceoff and to make sure they attack the Leafs early to see how their revamped lineup responds.

LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH – McDavid – Kassian
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Ennis – Turris – Puljujarvi
Neal – Shore – Archibald

Nurse – Bear
Russell – Barrie
Koekkoek – Larsson

Koskinen

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The Oilers made two lineup changes with Joakim Nygard (placed on taxi-squad) and Alex Chiasson coming out, and Tyler Ennis and James Neal drawing in. Neal makes his season debut after contracting COVID in mid-December. Neal will also return to the first unit powerplay as the PP looks to improve on its 3-for-21 start.

Maple Leafs

Hyman – Tavares – Marner
Vesey – Kerfoot– Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Simmonds
Barabanov – Brooks– Spezza

Reilly – Brodie
Muzzin – Hole
Dermott – Bogosian

Andersen

The Leafs lines are a projection and aren’t certain, but they clearly don’t have the same offensive depth they had last year or even two nights ago. **Update. Those are the actual Leafs lines now. Big advantage that one of Draisaitl or McDavid is going against Kerfoot or Engvall.**

Look for Edmonton to improve their transition game tonight. Dave Tippett mentioned that specifically this morning. As good as Edmonton was at defending on Wednesday, they were equally bad at moving the puck up the ice. The gap between forwards and D-men needs to be better, and defenders need to move the puck more effectively.

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TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: We will see more pace and flow tonight. Tippett will still want them to be sound defensively, but I expect more pop from the offence. Oilers get their first winning streak of the season with a 4-2 win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid has one of his dominant games, picking up three points.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Kyle Turris scores his first as an Oiler and Puljujarvi gets an assist for the second consecutive game.

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