The Edmonton Oilers had an interesting first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Centre to kick-off the two battles between two of the top contenders in the National Hockey League Scotia North Division. (from ‘Player grades: Edmonton Oilers do lots right but can’t finish job against Maple Leafs, hockey gods‘ Edmonton Journal, 03/27/2021) The Oilers would come up short against their blue and white donning foe by a score of 4-3 in overtime, which is just the second time all season that the Oilers have played more than the usual three frames. Edmonton currently holds the third spot in the division.
Before the contest started, the two-game series between the Maple Leafs and Oilers had some major implications for the division standings. The Oilers trailed Toronto by a reachable two points and are still in a three-way race with the Winnipeg Jets for the division lead. Not only that, but this is the last time that these two teams will meet each other before the postseason.
If the Oilers had won and the Jets lost to the Calgary Flames, which Winnipeg did, it would be a three-way tie between the teams for the top spot in the North Division.
Shaking Off the Rust
It was a week since Edmonton was last set for game action as the Oilers were scheduled to play the Montreal Canadiens three times this week at the Bell Centre, but those games were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The Oilers were 7-2 in their last nine games going into this one against Toronto.
Going into this game, head coach Dave Tippet shared his concerns about his team not playing those games against the Canadiens as expected.
It’s a concern when you’re kind of in a mode where you’re playing every other day and you come into a road trip where you think you’re going to play four games in six days and haven’t played yet. We’ve adjusted well to the time change, hopefully, the rest has been good for us but it is a concern. You want to come and get your legs under you as quick as you can.Oilers head coach Dave Tippet on Oilers TV
Now, Toronto also went into the game only playing once since March 20, that being an away game against the Ottawa Senators on March 25, so they were kind of in the same boat. The thought process that many fans have is that the Oilers would get the much-needed rest that is a scarcity during this condensed 2020-21 NHL schedule. However, Oilers players decided on having scrimmage-based practices all week long to prevent them from going into the game cold. The team has played three times after a break of two or more days from their last contest and has lost all three games.
The opening period was very fast-paced and both teams had a few chances back and forth to open the scoring. At one moment Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi were about to have a two-on-one opportunity but that was stopped at the Maple Leafs blue line. There was a short delay of the game during the first television time-out that was very fitting with the postponement of the Oilers and Canadiens series.
McDavid had a chance to take it to the net but elected to pass it back to Leon Draisaitl. Unfortunately for the Oilers, the pass was out of his reach, preventing him from getting a shot on net and getting on the scoresheet early. The period came to an end with the shots being 10-4 and the Oilers looked like a team that hadn’t played a game in a week when they weren’t able to finish their chances off the rush.
That concern was quickly remedied in the second frame as Darnell Nurse would respond to a Maple Leafs goal with his 11th goal of the year, a career-high for him too. Josh Archibald came close to giving the Oilers the first lead of the night but was stopped dead in his tracks by Leafs netminder Jack Campbell. Later in the period, Draisaitl capitalized on a one-timer pass from McDavid, scoring a dazzling goal with his quick release, 2-1 Oilers.
If you think that Draisaitl used up his magic on that play, then you’d be wrong as four minutes later Tyson Barrie would come in on the right side, pass it along the boards to Draisaitl behind the net, who would feed him the puck right in front of the net. Barrie made no mistake and buried his fifth on the season, 3-1 Oilers.
The Oilers seemed to have stunned the Maple Leafs considering how the game was so close at the beginning, to being blown open on behalf of the Oiler’s world-class playmakers. The third period started off tight despite a justified Devin Shore holding call. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a chance to score but lost the puck in action. The Leafs seemed down but weren’t out of the contest as they fought their way back into the game.
Edmonton had a horrible non-switch on defense that allowed John Tavares to narrow the lead to one. Then, over four minutes later, William Nylander would pot one of his own tying it up, 3-3. Again the game was close and eventually ended up in overtime, the second time all season that the Oilers had to play in the extra frame. Auston Matthews would get the game-winning goal for the Maple Leafs and the Oilers would leave the ice disappointed after giving up a two-goal lead in the third to lose in overtime. Edmonton had an inconsistent game, but can at least hang their hat on the fact that it was a winnable game for them, considering how they performed against the Maple Leafs when they came to town earlier this month and lost all three games.
Mike Smith Isn’t to Blame
Smith started his 16th game of the season on Saturday night and played his heart out for his squad. The Maple Leafs had a plethora of amazing, top-notch scoring opportunities offered to them on a silver platter at different moments throughout the game. Smith came up big for the Oilers as he kept the puck out of his net during the first period where he faced 10 shots — he also made a spectacular glove save on a point-blank shot from Jason Spezza.
Toronto would open the scoring 4:14 in the second frame by a fluky and unlucky shot that bounced around and pinballed its way off Smiths’ mask and into the net behind him. Toronto is 14-3-1 when scoring the first goal of the game. Despite that goal, Smith stopped anything coming his way for the rest of the period.
Later in the third, the puck was turned over by the Oilers in the neutral zone, the Maple Leafs broke in on the right side with numbers, Alex Galchenyuk passed it back between the legs to an open Tavares who put it past Smith. Now, Ethan Bear and Patrick Russell elected to take Galchenyuk instead of splitting off and preventing Tavares from getting a chance like that. Smith was left out to dry and didn’t have much of a chance to prevent that goal, putting the Leafs within one. The Oilers were 9-4 in one-goal games. Smith played the puck to McDavid who, with Barrie beside him, had a chance but didn’t score.
The Maple Leafs tied it up with 3:22 remaining as Nylander was left unattended in the high slot and made no mistake by scoring his 13th of the year. Smith was screened by two of his own teammates in Adam Larrson and Nugent-Hopkins, thus not being able to relocate the puck until it was too late. It’s hard to say if Nugent-Hopkins needed to hop up and cover Nylander instead of providing support to Larrson on Tavares, or if Kailer Yamamoto was supposed to come down and cut off Nylander from receiving a pass in the slot. The game went into overtime in large thanks to Smith stonewalling a possible go-ahead chance from Matthews.
Overtime came to an abrupt end as the Maple Leafs scored just 54 seconds into it. Mathews shot from the left side, the puck went off of Draisaitl to Nurse’s skate and past Smith. He didn’t stand a chance on most of these goals as they were either extremely unlucky bounces or bad positioning and awareness from the Oilers skaters in front of the net. Smith stopped plenty of well-placed one-timers and shots throughout the contest and doesn’t deserve to be blamed for the loss in my eyes.
Top Heavy Lineup
The Oilers boasted a dangerous top line of Draisaitl-McDavid-Puljujarvi and that proved to be a great group when on the ice, resulting in the Oilers capturing the 3-1 lead when they did. However, the team struggled elsewhere especially in the later frames of the second period. The second line of Dominik Kahun-Nugent-Hopkins-Yamamoto was on the ice for the Maple Leafs’ goals that brought them back into the game. We discussed the implications of teaming up Draisaitl and McDavid on the first line on Oilers Overtime and decided that it was a good move to make when the team is struggling mid-game.
What mattered was how the team performed elsewhere, specifically the second line, if any secondary scoring can support the Oilers and help them get wins. This game against Toronto is a prime example of how two great players in 29 and 97 can team up and produce highlight-reel goals without a doubt. However, it is glaringly obvious how shallow the Oilers lineup is if Edmonton puts their two best players on the same line together. Keep an eye out for if the team moves Draisaitl back to the second line, or if they make a move to add a top-six left winger to the team before the trade deadline.
Special Team Struggles
The Oilers had one power-play opportunity and they squandered it. At the time, they were the fifth-best power-play unit, operating at a 27.0% success rate. The Oilers had a hard time setting it up as the Maple Leafs weren’t having issues clearing the puck whenever it landed on their sticks. McDavid did have a chance but couldn’t get the puck to settle down on his stick. They’re now fourth in the league on the power play with it being 26.8% effective.
Edmonton had to kill off two penalties in the game. The first was a questionable tripping call on Bear during the later stages of the second period, and a clear Devin Shore holding infraction. The Maple Leafs were 65% in the faceoff dot during the game and no issues keeping the puck in the offensive zone on the power play. For their first attempt, they kept the puck in for the first minute and a half before the Oilers could clear it. They did kill off both penalties but definitely need to work on winning faceoffs and getting the puck out of their end of the ice when they need to. The Oilers are currently ranked at 21st in the league with a 76.5% penalty kill percentage.
All together the loss wasn’t as bad as it seems. Sure they gave up a three-goal lead late in the game, but they found the stride considering that they didn’t play a game for an entire week stretch. If a few unlucky bounces didn’t happen, Edmonton would have come out of the game victorious. The Oilers still have an opportunity to redeem themselves with another game against the Maple Leafs tonight.
Teagan Giselbrecht is a writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning & Colorado Avalanche here at The Hockey Writers. He completed the Television Broadcasting and Journalism program at N.A.I.T. in 2019. During his first stint in Edmonton, he did Play-by-play for the NAIT Ooks Men’s and Women’s hockey teams. He also worked for the Oilers Entertainment Group, Oilers and Oil Kings respectfully. He has covered various sports at different levels including the NHL, CFL, WHL, AJHL and ACAC. Former television news and sports reporter for Prime Time Local News in Lloydminster, he moved back to Edmonton to pursue career development opportunities with 630 CHED. When he’s not writing for THW, you can find him playing sports and spending time with loved ones.