Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes: Maple Leafs @ Oilers — Game 23

The Edmonton Oilers are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs for a three-game series at Rogers Place. It kicks off tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.

1. The last time Edmonton and Toronto played each other the Oilers were in an early-season must-win situation. It was Jan. 30 and the team was coming off of frustrating back-to-back losses that put them at 3-6-0 on the season. The Oilers won by a score of 4-to-3 in overtime and have completely turned around their season since.

2. Starting with that victory over the Leafs, the Oilers have won 11 of their last 13 games and they now sit in second place in the Canadian Division, only four points behind Toronto for top spot. Toronto has one game in hand on the Oilers and Winnipeg has three along with a better points percentage, but the Oilers have shown over the past few weeks that they aren’t just a team fighting to get into the playoffs. They can challenge for the division.

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3. The Leafs have also been rolling since we last saw them. Since that overtime win by the Oilers at the end of January, Toronto has gone 8-2-1, an impressive run given the fact they’ve had injuries to a few middle-six forwards (Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds) and both of their goaltenders (Freddy Andersen, Jack Campbell). Auston Matthews has apparently also been dealing with a wrist injury throughout the season.

4. Speaking of those injuries, Campbell practiced with the Leafs yesterday and will likely be ready to start against Edmonton. Andersen will also travel with the team and could be good to play in this series. Matthews is listed day-to-day with that wrist injury and reportedly won’t be playing on Saturday night.

5. The Oilers and Leafs have played each other four times this season with both teams earning two victories. Edmonton has the best head-to-head against Toronto among teams in the Canadian Division so far this season. The Habs and Flames are both are 1-2-1, the Senators are 2-3-0, the Canucks are 0-3-0, and the Jets are 0-1-0.

6. The Leafs owned the head-to-head against the Oilers early on in the Connor McDavid era but that’s changed over the past couple of years.

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In 2015-16, McDavid’s rookie season where the Leafs were tanking for Matthews, the teams split their two meetings, though McDavid was out with his collarbone injury for the loss. Toronto then went on to win all six meetings between the two teams from 2016-17 to 2018-19. In 2019-20, the Leafs and Oilers split the two meetings and, of course, they’ve split four in 2021.

After this three-game set, the Oilers and Leafs will play again two more times in Toronto in late-March. It’s a total of nine games head-to-head, so there won’t be a split this year.

7. No disrespect to Winnipeg as the Jets are a good team, but this match-up, to me, is the best the Canadian Division features. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews represent four of the league’s top-five scorers right now and Matthews leads the league in goals. It’s reasonable to assume that the Hart, Art Ross, and Rocket Richard trophies will be handed out to players from these two teams this season.

8. I don’t love the Crosby-Ovechkin comparison to McDavid-Matthews because all four are very different players. They’re both pure scorers but Matthews plays a better defensive game and doesn’t bring the same crash-and-bang energy to the ice that a prime Ovechkin did. McDavid and Crosby are also very different, as the former uses blazing speed to dominate opponents while the latter was always at his best down low in the offensive zone.

Regardless, this head-to-head is much like a Washington and Pittsburgh match-up from the past when Crosby, Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin were arguably the best three players in the game and other names like Nicklas Backstrom and Kris Letang weren’t that far off. Between McDavid, Draisaitl, Matthews, Marner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, John Tavares, and William Nylander, no two teams in the league feature more high-quality talent than Toronto and Edmonton do right now.

9. I really do hope that these two teams meet in the playoffs come spring. Assuming 2021’s divisional realignment will be a one-and-done, this is our best chance to see all of these players face-off in a playoff series, as Edmonton and Toronto will return to the Western and Eastern Conference respectively.

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I’ll put in writing here that I predict the Oilers and Leafs will meet in the second round of the playoffs.

10. To finish off, here’s the best of the best from Connor McDavid vs Toronto…