Tonight, a battle of the NHL’s basement dwellers will commence at the Air Canada Center and will feature the Edmonton Oilers (8-12-1-3) take on the Toronto Maple Leafs (8-11-2-2). The Toronto Maple Leafs come into tonight’s game riding a three game losing streak, with their last loss coming on Tuesday night, where the Leafs blew a third period lead in the dying seconds of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and proceeded to lose the match quickly in overtime on a two-on-one break for the Lightning, after Schenn made a costly giveaway in the offensive zone.
Up until the Leafs blew the game on Tuesday, they essentially controlled most of the game. They got off to a good start (something they have failed to do on most occasions this season), and held the opposition’s top star (Stamkos) off the score sheet. Things were looking great, until the Leafs reverted back to one of their uglier habits of blowing leads in the third period. In fact, one clear observation one can make of the Leafs this season (and of the past season) is that they either don’t get off to a good start and decide to show up in the third period (when the game is already gone), or show up in the first period and fail to show up in the third period. In short — the Leafs are not consistent. Any chance of them making the playoffs are essentially out the door at this point. A miracle would put them into the post season, but miracles are incredibly far and few between for the Leafs.
Tonight, the Leafs will ice a line-up which is fairly similar to that for which they iced against the Lightning. The top line will consist of Joey Crabb, Grabovski, and Kulemin. This was clearly the best line against the Lightning on Tuesday, and Wilson hopes that this line can continue to be a strong force tonight against the struggling Oilers. The second line will remain the same as that against the Lightning, consisting of MacArthur, Kadri, and Kessel. Kadri is still without a goal this season, and will have the opportunity to change that tonight against a relatively weak Oilers squad. The third line will see Bozak centering Sjostrom and Versteeg, and the fourth line will see Brent centering Orr and Mitchell.
The biggest change on defense comes with the healthy scratch of Keith Aulie, in favour of Lebda. Why Lebda continues to get chances with this Leafs squad is beyond me. In nearly every game he has played, he has made a costly error. Aulie is still a rookie, and while he has made some mistakes, his play overall has been better than Lebda’s.
Gustavsson will get the start against the Oilers in net. Gustavsson was outstanding Tuesday night against the Lightning, and is showing game after game why he should be the top goaltender in Toronto.
In terms of the match-up tonight, the Leafs come into the game having gone 3-6-1-0 in the past ten games, whereas the Oilers are 4-4-1-1 in the past ten, and are riding a two game winning streak. In the past ten match-ups between these two squads, both teams have one five games. The most recent match-up was on March 13th, 2010, where the Leafs won 6-4 in Toronto.
In terms of scoring for each team, the following chart is provided below:
As can be seen above, the Oilers allow the most goals against in the first and second periods, which strangely enough mimic the Leafs goals against trends. We may expect to see the most goals scored in the first period tonight, as well as the second period. The Leafs tend to get the majority of their goals in the second period, and the Oilers get the majority of their goals in the third period. Based on Tuesday’s collapse in the third period, the Leafs will need to ensure that they shut down the Oilers in the third period, especially if they are up a goal.
In terms of scoring the first goal, the following charts are provided:
Both teams tend to give up the first goal of the game, and is likely the reason why they are both at the bottom of the standings in the NHL. To elaborate on this further, the following chart is provided which depicts the winning percentage for each team when scoring first, or trailing first.
When scoring the first goal, the Leafs essentially win 60% of the team, whereas the Oilers win approximately 55% of the time. When trailing first, the Leafs only win about 15% of the time, whereas the Oilers win approximately 20% of the time. In terms of winning percentages, both teams are essentially the same. Again, this reflects why they are both at the bottom of the standings.
In terms of scoring for each team and their dominant scorers, the following charts are provided.
The Oilers feature a far more balanced scoring line-up. The Oilers are led by Ales Hemsky, and defense man Ryan Whitney. They have scored far more points than the Leafs overall, with the remaining roster accumulating 102 points, as compared to the Leafs 72 points. This is no surprise, as the Leafs have been shut out 5 times already this year.
In terms of “Leaf Killers” on the Oilers roster, the following chart is provided. This chart depicts total points scored in total career games played against the Leafs.
In the chart above, the most dangerous player against the Leafs is Hemsky, who has scored more points than games played against the Leafs. Dustin Penner is also a slight threat, with a near point-a-game pace against the Leafs. The Leafs will need to shut these two players down in order to improve their chances of winning tonight.
In terms of goaltenders, the Oilers will ice Khabibulin, whereas the Leafs will ice the red-hot Gustavsson. Gustavsson has only played one game against the Oilers and won that game.
Khabibulin has an overall winning record against the Leafs, but has also lost his fair share against the Leafs. Goals against average and save percentage for both goalies is provided below:
Gustavsson’s home goals against average is very impressive, sitting at 1.9 , and his save percentage at home is in the mid 90’s. In his one game against the Oilers, Gustavsson sports an approximate 4 goals against average, and a save percentage in the mid to high 80’s. Khabibulin’s away goals against average is quite high, sitting hear 5. His career goals against average against the leafs is around 2.7, with a save percentage of the low 90’s.
In terms of specialty teams, the Leafs sport a relatively strong home power play which clicks at around 25%. Edmonton’s away power play sits at around 15%. Toronto’s home penalty kill sits in the mid 80’s, whereas Edmonton’s sit in the mid 60’s. Based on these numbers, the Leafs should be expected to score several power play goals tonight.
Overall, the Leafs look to stand a good chance at winning tonight. The Oilers do not have the greatest road record (5-6-1-2), and their specialty teams on the road are quite poor. Khabibulin has not been the best away from Edmonton this year, and sports a high goals against average and low save percentage which should provide the low-scoring Leafs with a chance to notch some points. Expect the Leafs to win tonight’s game by at least a two goal margin. I suspect that Kadri will also score his first goal tonight. All-in-all, this may be a chance for Leaf fans to see a rather exciting match-up between two teams which don’t have much to be happy about thus far this season.