Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Maple Leafs @ Oilers: Bounce Back

Good teams avoid losing streaks. They find ways to rebound after a subpar effort. The Edmonton Oilers are 6-2 after a loss this season. They’ve lost two games in a row twice, but have found ways to avoid any lengthy losing streak. After a terrific run where they won 11 of 13 games, Edmonton didn’t match the execution and work ethic of a strong Toronto team.

It happens. But tonight presents an opportunity for them to see how they respond.

— This is the third mini series between the Oilers and Maple Leafs. Edmonton won game one and lost game two in their first two-game set, while Toronto did the same in their second set. Neither team has been able to win the first two games of a series, and while we aren’t even at the halfway point of the season, if the Oilers want to stay in the hunt for first place, they need to continue that trend tonight.

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— The Oilers have been a much better road team so far this season. They are 8-3 on the road (most wins in the NHL) and have outscored teams 35-27. They are 1-1 in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, are 1-0 in Montreal and 2-0 in Vancouver and Ottawa.

— But they are only 6-6 at home, having outscored teams 44-42. Over the years, we’ve heard when a team struggles at home it is because they are trying to put on a show. There are no fans in the stands, so that theory carries no weight this season. Edmonton is 0-2 v. Montreal, 1-2 v. Toronto, 1-1 against Winnipeg and Vancouver, 1-0 against Calgary and 2-0 against Ottawa. They are playing the exact same teams, yet they’ve allowed 2.45 goals/game on the road, and 3.50 at home. Over one goal more per game at home is a concern, and the Oilers need to reduce that number if they hope to win more games in Edmonton.

Evan Bouchard will not play the role Kris Russell is asked to play. Bouchard is not ready to play with Adam Larsson in a pure defensive role. I understand Bouchard’s puck moving skills are very good and fun to watch, but his defensive play is what will keep him in the lineup. Good coaching is putting players in a position to succeed, and right now Bouchard, when he plays, will be in a third pairing role. Asking him to take a lot of defensive zone starts against the top teams top-six is a bad idea. And Bouchard coming it will be impacted by how well Jones plays on the PK. He has been solid as of late, and if he continues on that trend, which I believe he can, then Bouchard could get some time in the third pairing instead of Russell. But Bouchard’s defensive zone play is the area that needs improving, and with the Oilers have a bigger weakness in their own end than they do scoring goals. So I can understand if Tippett goes with a veteran over Bouchard more often.

Caleb Jones was paired with Larsson in the third period. Jones, like others who spent time in the press box this season, has returned and played well. The plan at the start of the season was to have Jones play with Larsson. They didn’t have success early, but both are playing better now and I like them as a pair. Larsson has been much better since late January, and Jones since returning has been doing what the coaches want: get in the shooting lanes. His puck moving skills and puck transporting skills are a great complement for Larsson and I’d have them start tonight as a duo.

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Leon Draisaitl is playing banged up. I asked Dave Tippett if it was something that will heal in time or will Draisaitl have it all season. “I don’t think it is anything that will keep him out of games,” said Tippett. It is something to monitor. Draisaitl has missed a few practices, as they try to limit his ice time, and until he becomes a regular at practice then I’d say he is still dealing with the nagging issue.

— Yesterday Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe gave an update on Auston Matthews’ availability. “He’s progressed here today (Sunday) compared to where he’s been in the last few days so that’s very positive. So, he’s not ruled out for tomorrow. We’re just going to have to see how he is.” They don’t need to rush him back tonight, and I’d lean towards them waiting until Wednesday, but the games are better when the best players are playing. It would be fun to see four of the top-five scorers in the league go head-to-head.

— Tonight is the beginning of the Oilers busiest stretch of the season. They play 16 games in 29 days before a three day break on March 30th, 31st and April 1st.  Edmonton will play six games at home, then three on the road, two at home and end the month with five road games. They play Toronto four times, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa three times each, Winnipeg twice and Vancouver once.

They went 9-3 in February (12 games in 27 days) and 5-5 in January (10 games in 19 days).

— We are also exactly six weeks away from the April 12th NHL trade deadline. The Oilers don’t have a second, third or fifth round pick in the 2021 draft. Ken Holland could move a 2022 pick if he wanted, but I don’t expect him to be as busy as he was a year ago at the deadline when he acquired Mike Green, Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou. The Oilers are a deeper team today than they were last season, so Holland doesn’t need depth signings. If there is a legit top-six left winger with some size available, I could see looking into it.

— The Oilers didn’t play as well as they could have on Saturday, but they weren’t horrible. They missed the net on three glorious chances in the first period, which could have changed the game. I felt they lacked back pressure from the forwards often, which forced Edmonton’s D-men to back in more and give Toronto some space. They need to play better tonight, no question, but if you look at the numbers from Sportloqiq last game the possession numbers were very close.

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1st 2nd FINAL
Goals 2 0 3 0 4 0
Shots 9 10 22 21 29 30
OZ Possession Time 1:53 1:42 4:17 4:05 4:55 7:02
Slot Shots On Net 3 4 11 12 15 16
SC Off-the-Rush 2 1 5 2 5 2
Controlled Entries 13 13 28 25 35 41
Controlled Exits 31 23 54 48 75 70
Completed Stretch Passes 4 2 9 12 12 13

The one area Edmonton has to improve is limiting chances off the rush. The forwards need to give more support so the defenders don’t have to give up the blueline as often as they did on Saturday.

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