Mired in their longest losing streak of the season, the Edmonton Oilers will look to get back on track when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night.
1. This is uncharted territory for the 2019-20 Oilers. After tosing 6-5 to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, the team’s losing streak reached three games for the first time this season. The Oilers were the final team this season to not have a losing streak last for more than two games. Four other times had the Oilers dropped back-to-back games, but they, until Thursday, they were able to rebound and pick up a win before things turned into a skid.
2. This is undoubtedly Edmonton’s worst stretch of the season so far. Beyond the three losses in a row, the Oilers have won just two of their last eight games in what appeared to be a fairly easy stretch for them to cushion themselves with some points in the standings. Keeping the puck out of the net has been the biggest struggle for the Oilers as of late, as they’ve allowed four or more goals against in five of those eight games. Predictably, the three games in which they allowed three or fewer goals resulted in two wins and an overtime loss.
3. Keeping the puck out of the back of the net won’t get any easier tonight with the Leafs in town. While Toronto’s season has been as big of a disaster as anybody could have expected, one thing the Leafs can do is score goals. They rank sixth in the league with 106 goals this season and they rank fourth in the league with an average of 33.5 shots-on-goal per game.
4. We’re 10 games into the Sheldon Keefe era and things haven’t turned around in Toronto yet. The Leafs are 6-4 under Keefe and the team is currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in. After coming out on fire immediately after Mike Babcock was fired with three-consecutive big wins, the Leafs have reverted back into mediocrity. On Thursday night, they carried a 2-1 lead over the Flames into the third period, but completely handed the game away, allowing three unanswered goals in a matter of minutes. More often than not, this team fails to put forward a full 60-minute effort.
5. At this point, the Leafs don’t have any excuses. At the beginning of the year, they didn’t have key depth players in Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott. Then John Tavares got injured and Mitch Marner followed. It took until the middle of November for Toronto to finally ice their ideal lineup, but then the excuse was that Mike Babcock was holding them back. Now the Leafs have Keefe behind the bench and all of the key players back in the lineup. The team is what it is at this point and it doesn’t seem to be working.
6. The biggest problem for Toronto has been keeping the puck out of the net. And that isn’t a knock on Frederik Andersen. The reality of Toronto’s roster is they aren’t particularly difficult to play against and they don’t feature a blueline that thrives in the defensive zone. They allow the fifth-most shot attempts against and ninth-most high danger scoring chances against at even strength, and while Andersen has a strong .918 save percentage, the Leafs are 28th in the league in goals against. They play a run-and-gun style and give up a lot on defence in order to feed their attack, but, if you keep the Leafs to the outside and make them grind for their opportunities, they’re going to have a bad time.
7. Another key difference for Toronto from last year to this year has been a decline from their offensive depth. A large part of why the Leafs were good last year was the scoring that came from up and down the lineup. Even if you contained their star players, there were depth players who could hurt you. The Leafs had seven players hit the 20-goal plateau and 10 players score at least 10 goals last season. This year, only Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander have more than 10 goals. Mitch Marner, fresh off signing his massive contract, has just five goals. Alex Kerfoot, who was acquired in the Nazem Kadri trade, also has only five goals. Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson aren’t on pace to hit the 20-goal plateau like they did last year. Toronto still ranks sixth in the league in goals, so it isn’t like their offence has totally dried up, but it’s easier to contain this year than it was last year.
8. It’s been a long time since the Oilers have beaten the Leafs. In fact, their last win over Toronto came in Connor McDavid’s first career game against his childhood team. That was all the way back on Feb. 11, 2016, when McDavid exploded for five points in a 5-2 win at Rexall Place. Of course, that was during Toronto’s Tank for Matthews season. The Oilers are winless in six games against Toronto in the Auston Matthews era.
9. Circling back to the note about Edmonton’s recent skid, as frustrating as it might be, it’s far from the end of the world. The Oilers built themselves a nice cushion early on, giving them some room for error later on the season. The team simply wasn’t going to go the entire year without a cold stretch. The key now, obviously, is ensuring it doesn’t last too long. Back in 2016-17, the Oilers had a stretch in which they lost six of eight games in early December. They sat at 15-12-5 in the middle of the month that season, didn’t have a prolonged skid the rest of the way, and ended up in the playoffs.
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