The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers open their season series against each other this evening, the first of nine times the two franchises will face off. After a slow start to their season, the Oilers will be looking to prove that they didn’t attempt to build their team like an NBA roster by acquiring two superstars and expecting that to be enough. The Leafs meanwhile, will attempt to continue their hotstreak having won three of their first four contests during this 2021 season.
Both teams face their largest uncertainty in net with Frederik Andersen and Mikko Koskinen both posting sub-900 save percentages to start the season. While the Leafs have a literal backup plan with Jack Campbell showing promise early in the season, the Oilers are facing more concern after placing Mike Smith on LTIR and losing Anton Forsberg to waivers. With how highpowered both team’s offenses can be, seeing a backup be forced into the game in relief is more likely than either franchise would like to admit.
The Oilers fanbase has vocalised early concern about the team’s defensive issues, and for Leafs fans it’s been no different. Toronto will once again be going with a lineup of 11 forwards and 7 defencemen in this game after the tactic resulted in an impressive team performance during a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The addition of TJ Brodie seems to have already improved the backline by giving Morgan Rielly another capable puckhandler to work alongside. Mikko Lehtonen showed glimpses of promise during limited icetime in his first NHL appearance, but the team will need to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box and clearing out bodies from in front of the net if they want to keep their opponents of the scoresheet.
Tonight will also mark the return of Tyson Barrie to Toronto who has put up two assists since joining the Oilers and quarterbacks their first powerplay unit. Longtime Leafs fans already know to expect a Tyson Barrie goal because nothing says Toronto Maple Leafs more than allowing a former player to have a career night against the team in their first game back.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs player to watch: Auston Matthews
With only one goal in a league-leading 21 shots on net, Auston Matthews is due for some puck luck and it may be coming sooner than later. To top things off, the NHL recently recalled its tracking pucks after complaints from some players that they moved differently than regular pucks. Matthews and Spezza both commented that they noticed differences in the weight of these tech pucks with Auston even joking that they’re the reason he hasn’t found his usual scoring success. With standard pucks being used for tonight’s game, Matthews will have no further excuses and should be expected to be his usual goal-scoring threat.
Auston Matthews on if he noticed a difference in the debunked tech pucks:
“We noticed it a bit. Spezz was the first to bring it up to me. I said that’s why I couldn’t capitalize on these chances I’ve had the first four games, because those pucks are all messed up.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 20, 2021
Oilers player to watch: Kailer Yamamoto
Lost in the shadows of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto has continued to show he may be the Oilers’ secret weapon. After scoring 26 points in 27 games last season, he’s continued where he left off already notching three points this season while playing in the top six. Despite this, Oilers coach Dave Tippett has been limiting the young forward’s powerplay time, choosing instead to run two defencemen on both units. Despite seven powerplay opportunities during their last game against the Montreal Canadiens, Yamamoto saw only 1:07 of icetime with the man advantage, a staggeringly low amount especially when compared to Kris Russell who spent 2:58 on the powerplay despite being an offensive blackhole. If the Oilers powerplay continues to struggle, you can expect a mid-game shakeup that may see Kailer Yamamoto join McDavid and Draisatl on that first unit.
Leafs starting goalie: Frederik Andersen
Freddie will make to look it two solid performances in a row after less than steady performances in his first two starts. After Jack Campbell showed he’s capable of backstopping the team to victory during a matchup against the Senators, Andersen is sure to be feeling the fire burning behind him and must know that his role as a starter isn’t as secure as it once was. With two of the league’s best offensive weapons hoping to rebound against him, the Leafs netminder will have to be at his best to restore confidence in his ability going forward.
Oilers starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen
As mentioned earlier, the Oilers find themselves in a perilous situation when it comes to goaltending depth so Mikko will be getting another start. Despite showing glimpses of brilliance last season and putting up an impressive .917 save percentage, the Finnish netminder has struggled to start the 2021 campaign averaging nearly 4 goals against per game. Much like Andersen, Koskinen will be looking to bounce back against a flurry of offensive weapons as the Leafs look to continue the offensive dominance that saw them put up 38 shots on the Jets last game.
Tonight’s game will be on Sportsnet at 7pm EST