Coming in to their meeting tonight, the Leafs and Oilers have several things in common; they’re among the youngest teams in the league (Toronto average age: 25.9, Edmonton: 26.4), and they sit tied for 26th in the league with each having 20 points (though Edmonton has 1 more game played).
Follow me after the jump for more on tonight’s matchup.
They also each find themselves at a fork in the road for their seasons. A win tonight would be Edmonton’s third in a row, and provide much need momentum to right the ship and salvage the season; a loss and get ever closer to the draft lottery yet again. For Toronto a loss tonight would make 4 straight, and all but dash hopes that the playoffs are a possibility even in the weak East.
However, if Toronto can pull out the win, they’ll instill some much needed confidence into the young team as it gets set for a brutal early December schedule: BOS, @WASH, @PITT, PHI, MTL.
So who comes out ahead tonight? Going back to Monday, these two plays played in nearly identical games only with different outcomes. Trailing 3-1 to Montreal midway through the third, Edmonton rallied with two late goals to send it to overtime where Dustin Penner potted the game winner.
In the Toronto, it was the Leafs who had a 3-1 lead in the third until Martin St. Louis did his superman impression and scored two, setting up Simon Gagne’s triumphant return from injury in OT. However, don’t expect a comeback to occur tonight as neither team has reliably shown the ability to come back from a deficit nor relinquish a lead: Edmonton is 3-0-2 when leading after the 1st, and 2-9-2 when trailing;
Toronto is 4-0-3 when leading, and 3-9-0 when trailing. As is always the case with young, emotional teams the first goal in crucial and will probably be the deciding factor in determing which team comes away with a W.
So who’s going to score that all important first goal? For Toronto, Nikolai Kulemin is on a hotstreak with 8 goals in his last 13 games, including 4 in his last 4. Tonight would be a great night for Phil Kessel to get himself out of his current funk; only 3 goals in his last 15 games.
He was brought in to be a 40 goal scorer, not to be on pace with Ovechkin, and so he needs to turn it up. As porous as the Oilers defence and goaltending have been, tonight just might be his night. On the other bench, Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky make up the Oilers’ 1-2 punch on offense. Penner, a former Brian Burke power foward prodigy, had the game winner against Montreal and will be looking to keep it going. Expect a strong start from him.
Continuing the similarities, both teams are getting back a veteran goaltender from injury tonight, though only one is playing. Nikolai Khabibulin’s return has sent former Leaf Martin ".950" Gerber back to the AHL, and The Bulin Wall will start between the pipes tonight for the Oil. J.S. Giguere is back from his strained groin suffered two weeks ago, but will be the backup tonight behind Gustavsson.
Khabibulin has been pretty terrible this year with a 4-10-1 record, 4.07 GAA, and 0.879 sv% and is exactly the type of goalie the Leafs need to face right now, especially Kessel. The Monster, on the other hand, has been playing fantastic hockey and his stat line of 3-6-2 is extremely misleading as he’s been getting no help in front of him while posting a 2.58 GAA, and 0.914 sv%.
Goals are going to be scored tonight; a lot of them. Edmonton’s offense is powerful and potent, but their defense and goaltending is atrocious. Toronto is the opposite, no offense to speak of in front of solid defence and goaltending. Normally you’d say things would cancel themselves out, but I have a feeling we’ll see quite the opposite in the ACC tonight.
Penner – Cogliano – Brule
Hall – Horcoff – Eberle
Paajarvi – Gagner – Hemsky
Jacques – Fraser – Jones
Whitney – Vandermeer
Smid – Foster
Peckham – Gilbert
MacArthur – Kadri – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – Crabb
Sjostrom – Bozak – Versteeg
Orr – Brent – Mitchell
Kaberle – Schenn
Beauchemin – Komisarek
Lebda – Gunnarsson