Two teams emerging from rebuilds (or so we hope, anyway); two teams with recent No. 1 overall draft picks leading the way; two teams top-heavy in scoring and in salary; two teams in search of depth scoring.
Let’s focus on those last two points. Both the Maple Leafs and Oilers have been on the hunt for more depth scoring over the past few seasons, and attempts to do so have yielded varying results.
For Edmonton, the difference between top-line scoring and the rest of the club is pretty stark, with the league’s point leaders in Connor McDavid (57 points) and Leon Draisaitl (55) suiting up on the same line. Many debates have been held about whether the Oilers can and should split up the dynamic duo. Attempts to do so earlier this week led to losses, and it appears the two have already been reunited ahead of their Toronto matchup.
In this comparison, we’re focusing purely on goals, as both teams head into Saturday’s game with almost the same number of total goals scored on the season: Toronto has 105, followed closely by Edmonton’s 103.
So, how did they reach those totals? Here’s a brief breakdown of where the bulk of each team’s scoring is coming from in the lineup when it comes to their forwards.
When you compare each team’s top line, well… there really is no comparison. The combination of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is the best in the game right now.
They’ve each got 20 goals to their name while Zack Kassian — who has played most of his minutes this season to McDavid and Draisaitl’s right and has proven to be a strong fit there — has 11. (He’s already close to eclipsing previous career-highs less than halfway through the 2019-20 campaign.) Between McDavid, Draisaitl and Kassian, that’s 51 goals, and almost exactly half of the team’s total.
The number of goals drastically drops off when you look at the second line, where the current trio of Markus Granlund, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson has combined for 12.
That brings us to 63 goals for Edmonton’s top two lines, with that stellar first line dominating.
Looking at the top-line numbers of the Maple Leafs isn’t quite as cut and dry considering Toronto has shaken up its lineup several times already this year due to injuries, production and coaching change. But for the purpose of this exercise, we’re using the current (and also most commonly deployed) top-line trio of Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Between the three of them, they’ve combined for 24 goals.
The Maple Leafs have the luxury of being able to sport what is more of a 1A-1B situation than a clear-cut first line, with their “second-line” combo of William Nylander, team leader in goals Auston Matthews (he’s got 19) and Kasperi Kapanen putting up 38 goals so far.
That’s 62 goals from Toronto’s current top-six group, just one shy of Edmonton’s total. Two nearly identical goal totals between Edmonton’s top two lines and Toronto’s, but two very different ways of getting there.
As fans of either team know very well, depth scoring has been a struggle – and it’s one most clubs around the league deal with.
Edmonton’s third line of James Neal, Gaetan Haas and Sam Gagner has 19 goals, but what skews this comparison is Neal’s role in it – 15 of those goals belong to the sniper, with most of his markers coming during his early-season scoring spree and while playing alongside McDavid on the power-play. Between this trio and the fourth line (Jujhar Khaira-Riley Sheahan-Josh Archibald), the Oilers have 27 goals from their current collection of bottom-six players.
That’s better than the Maple Leafs’ totals right now. Because both former head coach Mike Babcock and his replacement, Sheldon Keefe, have juggled the lines so much, we’re better off simply totalling the numbers of all six current players expected to suit up in bottom-six roles Saturday night: Pierre Engvall, Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore, Frederik Gauthier, and Jason Spezza. They’ve got 19 among them.
So, what can we expect, production-wise for Saturday’s contest? Odds point to a star-studded offensive showdown, which would no doubt be fun to watch. But perhaps it’ll wind up being the depth players who make the biggest difference on this night — just to prove us all wrong. Both fanbases would surely love to see it.