GDB 68.0: Oilers kick off back-to-back weekend with rematch against the Leafs (5pm MT, HNIC)

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
25 days ago
Is there anything better than watching the Oilers kick off Hockey Night in Canada in the early slot against the Toronto Maple Leafs? No. That’s the answer. At least, not from where I’m blogging. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s game day.
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When the Oilers and Leafs faced off in January, the atmosphere at Rogers Place was equal parts loud, vibrant, and potentially annoying. The arena was half full of Leafs fans, some of whom had surely paid a premium for their tickets, while others were perhaps not as loyal to their home team as they claim to be the other 364 days of the year. It’s one of the stranger quirks that accompanies a Leafs game, but I digress.
This time, the Oilers are heading to Scotiabank Place, aiming for a second consecutive victory over a Leafs team that has been performing reasonably well of late. With a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games and a solid 18-12-3 record at home, the Leafs are undoubtedly a formidable opponent. However, our boys have what it takes to sweep the season series if they keep playing the flavour of hockey we’ve seen over the last few weeks.
The Leafs come into round two with the Oilers riding a win-one-lose-one rollercoaster that’s seen them blow opponents out on the scoreboard while also being lit up themselves. One night, Toronto will look like world-beaters. The next, they’re coughing up goals like crazy. Their last four games, in particular, have been very high-scoring, with all four of those contests seeing seven total goals or more. If I were a betting man, which I am, I’d be looking at the over again tonight.
If the Oilers are to secure a third straight victory, they’ll need to be careful with their puck management. More specifically, they need to do a better job of making simple plays instead of always going for the highlight reel option. Against the Sabres on Thursday night, the Oilers got caught with a couple of goals early in the game due to avoidable turnovers, and that’s a detail they’ll have to clean up against a solid offensive club like Toronto.
As much as I want to make fun of the Leafs for literally any reason you can think of, the reality is that they’ve got plenty of offensive weapons that can burn you if you’re sloppy with the puck. Without any help from the Oilers, they will produce plenty of offensive chances on their own, and our boys will be best served to do everything they can to avoid gifting them with additional opportunities.
Of course, tonight’s game also presents the Hockey Gords with the opportunity to do the funniest thing imaginable: to have Zach Hyman hit the 50-goal mark in the market that let him go. As you’ll read in the “What They’re Saying” section a little bit later in this preview, Leafs fans are not having a good time following Hyman’s success in Edmonton, and I could think of no better salt in the wound than having him reach the milestone in his old stomping grounds.
Let’s see what the numbers say…


LAST 10 GAMES7-1-26-3-1
POWER PLAY%26.626.0
AVG. SHOTS/FOR33.632.6
TEAM SAVE%.916.912
CORSI FOR%54.9750.58
Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (Sv%, CF%, PDO, Shooting%, xGF% all at 5×5)
  • Corey Perry leads all active Oilers in career games (33), while Connor McDavid leads in career points (32) vs. the Maple Leafs.
  • Zach Hyman continues to push towards 50 goals after tacking on two more against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, bringing his total to 48 on the season. Hyman is now the 13th different Oiler to register a 40-goal season and the 3rd since Petr Klima in 1990-91 (McDavid and Draisaitl are the other two). Should he reach the 50-goal plateau, he would become only the 7th player in franchise history to do so: Wayne Gretzky (x8), Jari Kurri (x4), Leon Draisaitl (x3), Glenn Anderson (x2), Connor McDavid (x1) and Mark Messier (x1).
  • Kris Knoblauch has compiled a 39-12-3 record since being named Oilers head coach on November 12th, including an impressive 22-4-2 mark on home ice. Back in January, Knobby became the first head coach in NHL history to record two winning streaks of at least eight games before the 25-game mark of his coaching career. Since Knoblauch took over, the Oilers’ 39 wins are the most in the NHL. Additionally, the Oilers rank 4 in penalty killing (83.6%), 5th in GA per game (2.56), 3rd in power play (27.5%) and 2nd in GF per game (3.80).




Draisaitl – McDavid – Hyman
Foegele – RNH – McLeod
Kane – Henrique – Perry
Janmark – Carrick – Brown
Ekholm – Bouchard
Nurse – Desharnais
Kulak – Ceci
I was curious to see if Kris Knoblauch would make any adjustments to his lineup after the dominant wrap up to Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. Outside of Desharnais getting back in for the first time since breaking his finger, Knobby is spinning the forward lines up again with Draisaitl back up on the first line, Kane on the third, and Derek Ryan getting the healthy scratch.


Bertuzzi – Matthews – Holmberg
McMann – Domi – Nylander
Knies – Tavares – Robertson
Dewar – Kampf – Reaves
Rielly – Brodie
Benoit – McCabe
Edmundson – Liljegren
The Leafs are coming off a 7-3 blowout of the Washington Capitals, and I’m guessing that has them feeling pretty good about the offensive side of their game. Even with Marner out with an ankle injury, the Leafs haven’t really missed a beat offensively and that will obviously present a challenge for the Oilers if they bring anything less than their A-game defensively.


From Theleafsnation.com:
When you look at players the Maple Leafs would absolutely love to have back the list is fairly long. Mason Marchment gets a lot of attention in that regard, as does Nazem Kadri, and you can certainly throw Michael Amadio, Trevor Moore, Sean Durzi and Carter Verhaeghe into that group as well.
Still, the success of Zach Hyman stands out as one of the toughest ones to move on from and despite his injury history a lot of people wanted to see him return even at a steep cap hit, it’s just the term that seemed to be the sticking point as Hyman finding himself in good health in Edmonton wasn’t something that anyone who had been paying attention to his career in Toronto would have predicted.
The Leafs only getting around 75% of the games out of Hyman in his final couple of seasons and the fact that he had two significant knee injuries led to Kyle Dubas pumping the breaks on Zach despite the fact his numbers were already showing signs that he could be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL and close to a point per game player. The Leafs also weren’t in an ideal salary cap situation and much as they are today needed to put their focus towards defence and goaltending rather than having another high profile forward. If you really want to be mad about the departure of Hyman, a good chunk of the cap space his departure created was spent on Petr Mrazek. The rest on Nick Ritchie.
Initially it looked like the acquisition of the significantly cheaper Michael Bunting would ease the pain from Hyman’s success in Edmonton, but as Bunting cooled off last season and Hyman is now stronger than ever there seems to be a desire to kick rocks over Zach Hyman instead of appreciating the reasoning for moving on from him was sound and being happy for a Leaf favourite now having success and health in a new market (thankfully a Western Conference market.)
Given that Zach Hyman is two goals away from hitting 50, it seems almost certain he’ll achieve it tonight in Toronto and with it the “#shouldofkept” narrative will be in abundance. The reality of the situation three summers ago made sense for the Leafs and since that time Zach Hyman has exceeded all expectations. It’s also important to remember that Kyle Dubas acquired Hyman for Greg McKegg and was in tune with what Hyman might be capable of long before anyone else did. The salary cap and injury history made him waver from that but reasonably so.


Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nothing is more fun than winning 4-2 in the opposition’s barn, and that’s what we’ll be watching a little bit later this afternoon.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: We will see at least three Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews comparisons on the broadcast. We will also see two goals from Zach Hyman to hit the 50-goal mark in front of the fans who let him go. It will be magical.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: He protec, he attac, he Brett Kulak. Offence from the defence, my friends.

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