EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers couldn’t manage a goal in 120 minutes of hockey versus a Toronto Maple Leafs club that had neither Auston Matthews nor Frederik Andersen in its lineup. Both are back for the Leafs tonight – gulp!
For Edmonton, which had visions of challenging Toronto for first place when this series began, this finale is as much about their own pride and sense of self-belief as it is about the two points in the standings.
“That’s a huge factor,” said defenceman Adam Larsson, when asked about the team’s pride. “Losing three times in a row, it’s something we really talked about (that) we don’t want to do. We still have a lot of energy. We just have to get the job done today, (then) it’s a 2-1 series and we’re looking pretty good overall here.
“But we’ve got to play a whole lot better overall.”
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett’s media Zoom calls have taken on a crankier feel since his team hit the skids. He wasn’t going down the road on what a win means for his team’s pride.
“You treat every game the same: You prepare to win,” deadpanned Tippett. “You recognize who you’re playing against … what you have to do to get wins and go out and try an accomplish that goal.
“Things haven’t gone as well — that’s just human nature. You’re sour that you’re not winning games. You can either stay sour and mope around, or you can get up off the mat and get back and get a win.”
Tippett protected goalie Mikko Koskinen, referencing the first intermission hook as a momentum ploy rather than a reflection on Koskinen’s play. However, Koskinen wasn’t good enough, and a team that is posting goose eggs offensively surely cannot afford to give up easy ones like William Nylander’s backhand that made it 2-0.
Andersen, of course, has a 14-1-2 lifetime record against Edmonton, forged mostly during his days as an Anaheim Duck. He owns the Oilers. As for Matthews, the Leafs are now 3-0 against the Oilers in games where Matthews has been absent.
Here’s a look at what we think we’ll see tonight. Edmonton's lineup has significant changes, while Toronto — outside of the players returning from injury — sticks with a winning hand.
Neal, McDavid, Puljujarvi
RNH, Draisaitl, Yamamoto
Ennis, Khaira, Archibald
Turris, Haas, Nygard
Note: Neal on the top line. Dominik Kahun comes out with a possible injury, while Tippett reunites Nugent-Hopkins on the Draisaitl line. That’s something fans will love and a move Tippett has been reticent to make. Losing trumps everything though, including playing young Evan Bouchard, who looks to come out.
Thornton, Matthews, Marner
Kerfoot, Tavares, Nylander
Mikheyev, Engvall, Hyman
Vesey, Boyd, Spezza
Note: Alexander Barabanov comes out of the line after playing four straight games (0-0-0), to make room for Matthews. If Campbell is healthy he’ll back up Andersen. If not, Michael Hutchinson will get the tap.
The World According to Keefe
In a normal Western swing, the Leafs would have played in Edmonton on Saturday, likely Calgary on Monday, and be they would suiting up in Vancouver for a game against the Canucks tonight. Not this year, however.
Tonight, Keefe’s Leafs face a team that has spent the past few days dissecting the video in search of the answers to consecutive shut outs. Where Keefe would normally not be considering tactical changes with his team going so well, it’s a bit different when you’re dropping the puck against the same team for a third straight game.
“In a normal schedule … you’ve got to move on quickly and get to the next city. It doesn’t allow adjustments or that level of focus on one team,” Keefe said. “Our approach … especially when things are going well, you focus on what HAS gone well. Continue to build positivity … but also be real. Call out the things that don’t go well. The things that, if we don’t fix them quickly, will become issues for us.
“We try to keep it real, have honest conversations, and our players have been very receptive (to that). We’re walking that line, having that balance.”
Alex Chiasson received a one-game suspension for his cross check to the face of Toronto’s Jimmy Vesey, delivered after the final horn had sounded on Monday.
“We had a hunch it was coming,” Tippett said. “A big factor was the timing of it. The game was over, and that’s something the league doesn’t like. We accept it and move on.”
It was a clear act of frustration by a member of a team that had been manhandled for two straight games by Toronto. Whatever the score was that Chiasson was attempting to settle, his timing needs some work.
“The last couple of games haven’t gone very well. He’s frustrated,” said Tippett, calling it “a spur of the moment action.”
Neal will likely take Chiasson’s spot on the Oilers' top powerplay unit.