The Leafs are staring down the possibility of yet another first-round exit at the hands of their playoff bogeymen in Boston.
While there’s been more than enough opportunity to melt down over that in the last handful of weeks, though, there’s still cause for celebration as the Leafs prepare for their Saturday evening game. Not only will they be facing one of the league’s most miserable franchises, but they’ll do so with the return of Toronto’s most antagonistic player.
Nazem Kadri has been out since February 19th with a concussion, leaving the Leafs without one of their longest-tenured active players for over two-and a half weeks.
He’ll make his return to the lineup on Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers, though, hopefully helping the Leafs put down Connor McDavid and the rest of the West’s lottery ticket darlings.
The Leafs have one of the most formidable trios of offensive pairings in the NHL at the moment, with one-two punches of Tavares-Marner, Matthews-Kapanen, and now Kadri-Nylander. Just a few years back, Nylander and Kadri would have been on the top line even given their diminished production this year — and the fact that they’re manning the third line with Patrick Marleau is a sign not of their depreciated value but of the team’s overall offensive wealth.
Of course, their scorepower doesn’t amount for much if the forwards can’t find the back of the net – which is what happened against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. Only Ron Hainsey and Morgan Rielly managed to score against another of the Pacific’s floundering franchises; if Toronto expects to win against Connor McDavid, that’s not an option.
The Oilers have one of the most top-heavy lineups in the NHL, icing a 94-point forward in Connor McDavid and a 41-goal scorer in Leon Draisaitl to go with just three other players currently boasting 10 or more goals. Although Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having a banner year and Alex Chiasson seems to be getting his groove back, Tobias Rieder still hasn’t scored a goal in 53 games and Milan Lucic stumbling to 5 goals on the year so far is considered progress.
Their back end finally contains Andrej Sekera again, after it took the team literally weeks to clear up enough cap space to take him off of injured reserve. But although he’s been a huge asset since his return, the Oilers remain a team that may or may not end up with Jack Hughes in June.
Frederik Andersen is set to make his 50th appearance of the year on Saturday, following the hilarious walk-back by head coach Mike Babcock in regards to his comments about giving Andersen a little bit of a break down the back stretch.
Andersen boasts a .923 save percentage on the year and is currently considered a potential front-runner for the Vezina Trophy come late spring, so it’s unlikely he’ll run into much trouble when facing down the lethargic Oilers. He’s 10-0-1 all-time against Edmonton, dating back to his years with Anaheim, so the game should be a cakewalk for the Danish puck-stopper. Whether it’s a game he *should* be playing, of course, is another story entirely.
Across the ice, the Oilers are projected to start Mikko Koskinen, who remains as the starter for Edmonton after dealing away former team hero Cam Talbot. Koskinen started to stumble after a white-hot start, but seems to have turned things around lately; with four straight wins following his last outing against Toronto, he appears to have regained his composure.
Of course, his last loss was against Toronto, who scored four times on him over 16 shots in the first 24 minutes of the game. So for the Oilers, it’s a bit too soon to feel confident.