Dallas Eakins is only four games into his tenure as coach of the Edmonton Oilers. That short time in Edmonton will make his return to Toronto Saturday even more special, as his Oilers face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Saturday night.
A former Maple Leafs player and assistant, Eakins spent four seasons coaching the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, before being hired by Edmonton. That familiarity with the Maple Leafs organization is what will make Saturday night a special affair for Eakins.
"I think I know everybody that works in this building, from the ushers to the Zamboni guy to the staff," Eakins said following the morning skate. "I have a history with a lot of the players. It's always good when it's something familiar. I'm grateful for the time that I spent here."
Eakins won't have much time to enjoy his Toronto reunion. His Oilers are off to a disappointing 1-3-0 start, with their lone win coming in a shootout after the team rallied back from a three-goal deficit against the New Jersey Devils only to blow a 4-3 lead with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. What's more, Edmonton opens a season-long six-game road trip Saturday in Toronto.
The team's prospects for beating a physical Maple Leafs team could improve with the potential return of 6-foot-4 forward Jesse Joensuu, who has been out with a lower-body injury sustained against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 5. Eakins would not confirm that the 26-year-old Finn would be in the lineup, but noted that he appeared ready to return and that the Oilers certainly could use him.
"I think if he is ready to go we have to put him in. He is something we've missed in our lineup. A big body who works like that, is able to flex his muscles physically," Eakins said. "As soon as he got hurt, we missed him terribly. He has done everything we've asked of him and he plays a hard game and we need more of that in our lineup."
Forward Sam Gagner skated Saturday while wearing a face shield and doesn't appear close to returning after suffering a broken jaw during the preseason.
With very few lineup changes to speak of for either team, there will be plenty of focus on the coaching matchup. Not only is Toronto coach Randy Carlyle a mentor of sorts for Eakins. He even served as an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets during the 1995-96 season, when Eakins played two games with the team.
It all leads to what should be a special night for the Oilers' rookie coach.
"I don't think it's ever fun coaching against Randy. He's on a level of craziness with his matchups. I'm already ready mentally for that," Eakins said. "For me, it's an honor to stand across the bench of a guy who has won a Stanley cup, a guy who helped me as a young player, a guy I looked up to my whole playing career and a guy who helped me develop as a coach."
Here are the projected lineups for the Oilers and Maple Leafs on Saturday:
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
David Perron - Boyd Gordon - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth - Mark Arcobello - Nail Yakupov
Luke Gazdic - Will Acton - Mike Brown
Andrew Ference - Justin Schultz
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz- Anton Belov
Scratched: Brandon Davidson
Inured: Ryan Hamilton (knee), Steve MacIntyre (knee), Corey Potter (back), Sam Gagner (jaw), Jesse Joensuu (lower body)
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - David Broll
Josh Leivo - Dave Bolland - Mason Raymond
Colton Orr - Jay McClement - Carter Ashton
Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Paul Ranger
Scratched: Bodie, David Clarkson (suspended)
Injured: Nikolai Kulemin (ankle), Mark Fraser (kidney), Frazer McLaren (finger)