Game Notes Maple Leafs @ Oilers: Many New Faces
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor8 months ago
While the Edmonton Oilers made two trades yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs made three. That makes five trades in 11 days for Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas, and I don’t think Ken Holland is done dealing either. Any time a playoff-bound team makes a significant acquisition it adds energy to the dressing room, and both teams should be energized tonight.
— Mattias Ekholm gives the Oilers what they desperately need: A hulking, experienced solid defender who can move the puck. Edmonton’s biggest weakness, for what seems like forever, has been defending 5×5. The Oilers allow too many goals 5×5. They rank 19th in goals against at 5×5 over the past three seasons. Edmonton has the 10th most points in those three seasons, and if they want to have another good playoff run they need to limit their GA at 5×5.
— Ekholm won’t solve the issue on his own, but he should be a welcome addition. His opening press conference should instantly endear him to Oilers fans. He spoke about being very excited about coming to Edmonton. He mentioned how he’s heard his name in trade rumours the past few seasons, but every time it came up, he didn’t think the rumoured destination was a good fit. When he heard Edmonton was interested, he felt it would be a great fit.
— Then he added. “I have a pretty good sense of what it takes to shut guys down in the playoffs.” He knows his role and he relishes it. But he’s not just a shut-down defender. He moves the puck well, and while he mentioned he’s never met Philip Broberg, he looks forward to helping mentor him. “I’m sure that’ll be a big part of my game as well,” said Ekholm. The other benefit he brings is his size. He is 6’4″ and 215 pounds. Big, skilled and mobile D-men are incredibly valuable in the playoffs. Edmonton enters tonight 21st in the NHL in goals against 5×5 this season. They’ve allowed 129 in 61 games. Ekholm’s former team, the Nashville Predators, are eighth with 106. Of course, having Juuse Saros helps, but Ekholm has been a defensive stalwart for years in Nashville and how he defends should rub off on his teammates.
— I’m curious to see who he plays with. He said he’s comfortable playing both sides, but like most players, two pro scouts told me he’s better on his natural left side. If he starts there, Evan Bouchard could be his partner. Bouchard raved about playing with Duncan Keith. He loved it. He learned so much from Keith, and Keith made him a more consistent player. Ekholm could do the same, and I’m sure the Oilers are hoping that’s the case. But Edmonton could also play Brett Kulak and Ekholm together and leave their three young defenders as the fifth, sixth and seventh defenders.
— Bouchard will replace Tyson Barrie on the first unit power play. He will get more minutes there, so do they want to overload him with more 5×5 minutes right away as well? It might not be the best strategy. With seven D-men they have options. Tyson Barrie was very popular in the room, and he was effective on the power play. But the Oilers’ PP runs through Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. I don’t expect it to take a major dip without Barrie, but that doesn’t downplay Barrie’s importance. He was very good at walking the blue line. His passes were always on the tape, and he had excellent instincts on knowing when to slide down the blue line to the boards and give the half-wall player an easy outlet to the point. I think Bouchard will be fine, but there will be some slight adjustments, and there is a small risk the PP, Edmonton’s best weapon, dips because of this trade.
— The Oilers also traded Jesse Puljujarvi to Carolina. He hasn’t played a big role this season, and he’s excited for a new opportunity. He’ll go to Carolina and start on the fourth line but could move up as Rod Brind’amour moves guys around regularly. Puljujarvi will likely have good possession numbers in Carolina, because every forward does. Their lowest SF% for a forward is 55% and the lowest xGF% is 57%. I wouldn’t judge his success on possession numbers, because every player has good ones in their system. I think a new opportunity will give him some confidence. I could see him re-signing in Carolina for one year around $1.2m.
— Klim Kostin, whom the Oilers acquired earlier this season, has taken a few too many minor penalties lately. However, he also draws a lot of penalties. He’s taken 14 minors, but he’s drawn 21. He is +7 in penalties drawn/taken and only Connor McDavid (23-9), Zach Hyman (19-10) and Leon Draisaitl (17-8) have a better ratio. Kostin’s robust style will lead to some penalties, he just needs to find how to walk that line a bit better. He’s excellent at drawing penalties. Amongst forwards in the NHL who have played at least 200 minutes at 5×5, Kostin has the highest penalties drawn/60 at 3.1. Ideally his penalties taken will drop a bit.
— McDavid sits 84th at 1.4 PD/60. He is 13th in penalties drawn with 23. The Leafs’ Micheal Bunting is tied for the league-lead with Nazem Kadri at 31, followed by Matthew Tkachuk at 30. Those three are more physical and battle in close around the net, but considering how often McDavid has the puck his 23 penalties drawn still seems a bit low.
— While the Oilers made two trades yesterday, the Maple Leafs have made significant changes the past two weeks. They have six new players in Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, Jake McCabe, Luke Schenn, and Erik Gustafsson. They’ve made significant changes to their bottom-six forwards and to their blueline. GM Kyle Dubas doesn’t have a contract past this season, and I’ve heard some say if the Maple Leafs lose in the first round, he won’t get a new contract. Why? He’s done his job. If they don’t win, then it is on the players, not the GM, in my view. He’s given his core many good supporting players. At some point, his core players need to win a series. They should have a great chance v. Tampa. The bottom six in Tampa is not as fast as in previous years and that could be the difference in the series.
— Toronto is good. They have the fourth most points in the NHL. They are sixth in GF/game and fourth in GA/game. Their power play ranks fifth, and their penalty kill is 10th. They aren’t as good as Boston, who Edmonton lost 3-2 against on Monday, but this will be another good test for the Oilers. They need a similar performance as they had on Monday, but they will need to bury their chances.
— Will Jay Woodcroft give Jack Campbell the start against his former team tonight? Campbell’s last four starts have not been great. He’s allowed 18 goals on 107 shots (.831Sv%). He lost the first three starts in OT/S0 and didn’t get a decision v. Columbus after being pulled. He had a decent stretch of 10 games between January 1st to February 7th where he went 8-1 with a .916Sv% and 2.24 GAA, but prior to that, he’s struggled. He needs to find some consistency, and maybe facing his former teammates and good friends will get him on track.
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