Tonight the Oilers play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a classic Saturday Hockey Night in Canada matchup. In a nice change of pace the Oilers will be playing in the early game, 5:00 start for the game today.
The Oilers are coming into tonights matchup riding a 4 game winning streak that started following their loss to these same Maple Leafs. An embarrassing loss at that. It was a game that looked promising for the Oilers early as Draisaitl put the Oilers up 1-0 but their wasn’t a lot to stay up for after that for Oilers fans. It’s a loss the guys in Orange will be looking to avenge today. Not only would beating the Leafs tonight feel like a makeup for the poor performance last time they played but it will also help keep the Oilers ever slimming playoff hopes alive.
Last night the Wild lost to the Panthers. The wild are currently holding down the 2nd Wildcard spot in the West, 7 points up on the Oilers who now have 2 games in hand. Win those 2 games, 1 of them being against Toronto tonight and the Oilers would only be 3 points back of the Wild with 13 games to go. that seems a lot more do able than overcoming a 7 point gap so tonights game has huge implications for the Oilers.
However just catching the Wild probably won’t be good enough to get into the playoffs the Oilers still need to hop over the Avalanche and the Coyotes in order to start even nipping at the Wild’s heels. The Oilers are 3 points back of the Avalanche but they just got bad news in the form of captain Gabriel Landeskog is going to miss some significant time with injury. The Avalanche are built quite similar to the Oilers in the sense that they have three big guns who run their offence, Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen (Nuge, Draisaitl, McDavid), then after that both teams secondary scoring falls off a cliff to almost non-existent. That should give the Oilers an advantage in this late season push.
Then there’s the dilemma of passing the Coyotes. Even though the Oilers are looking good after winning four straight the Arizona Coyotes are looking even better. They are 4 points up on the Oilers and are riding a current 10 game stretch where they’ve gone 8-2-0. They are hot as the desert right now and that’s without their starting goalie Antti Raanta who has missed a lot of time with injury, they are also missing Stepan and Schmaltz two big contributors from their top line. Jason Demers is finally back but he has missed most of the season with injury as well. Injuries don’t seem to be affecting Arizona much this year, so they damage they could do with everyone healthy could be quite astounding.
The Leafs on the other side of the equation are sitting nicely in third in their division. they probably won’t be able to catch Boston with how well they are playing right now, and they surely won’t drop into a Wildcard spot. Babcock has acknowledged that Anderson has been overworked in the past and needs to get some rest for playoffs, saying that 56 games would be ideal for Anderson. With that being said it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Garrett Sparks get the start today because the Oilers are a non-playoff Western conference team, it won’t impact Toronto a whole lot win or lose this game. That’s not saying that they will take the Oilers lightly.
Also Nazem Kadri will draw back into the lineup for the Leafs for the first time since being diagnosed with a concussion, he loves to shadow McDavid in these games. after sitting on the sidelines for a while i’m sure he’ll be ready to go. Coming back from concussions can be difficult, so I would expect Kadri to be McDavid’s shadow for part of the night but ultimately he’ll get some limited ice time to work himself back into game shape. It might not matter if Kadri is shadowing McDavid or not though because I’m positive that McDavid will be fired up after the team’s embarrassing performance last time around and he’ll want to desperately flip the script on Toronto.
Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are both out on the back end for Toronto with injuries, this is good news for the Oilers. Toronto’s weak back end has always been a problem for them in recent years, so losing two of your top 6 defenders is a monumental blow. The Oilers will need to have good solid pressure in the offensive zone and try to capitalize on the weak defence of the Leafs. The Oilers know all too well about having their best defenders out of the lineup. Andrej Sekera has basically missed to full seasons, and Klefbom has also missed quite a bit of time as well. When both were out of the lineup the Oilers leaked goals all over the place.
If the Oilers are going to be successful tonight and beat the Leafs they’ll need to pounce on Toronto’s weak back end and prevent them from getting the puck cleanly to their forwards. Toronto’s offence is very effective and can transition quickly. The Oilers will need to shut it down quickly and play a hard forecheck game. Contributions will need to come from everyone not just the big three, and Koskinen will need to be rock solid in net, which he has been since taking over the starting job after the Talbot trade.
Nuge – McDavid – Kassian
Khaira – Draisaitl – Chiasson
Gagner – Cave – Currie
Rieder – Brodziak – Rattie
Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Russell
Sekera – Benning
Hyman – Tavares – Marner
Johnsson – Matthews – Kapanen
Marleau – Kadri – Nylander
Ennis – Petan – Brown
Rielly – Hainsey
Muzzin – Zaitsev
Marincin – Ozhiganov