EDMONTON, AB - Tonight, the Oilers look to end their November schedule with the opposite result of how they started. On Nov. 1, Edmonton suffered a 3-2 overtime loss in Toronto. They host the Maple Leafs tonight at Rogers Place.
The story of that game was how Toronto deployed Nazem Kadri and company to slow down Connor McDavid.
"They play a tough game," said McDavid. "They put a lot of emphasis on not letting me come through the middle with a lot of speed or really touch the puck at all. It's nothing I haven't seen before. It's something I'll have to figure out pretty quick here."
The Oilers are hoping that if the Leafs do what they did last time, the supporting cast around the captain can rise to the occasion.
"I think every team tries to limit Connor as much as possible," said Oilers winger Leon Draisaitl. "That's their first thought to take Connor out of the game. For us as a team, it's important to know the guys behind him are the guys who are probably going to win the game. I think we're all well aware of that but Connor is still good enough to manage his game."
Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan provided his thoughts on the Leafs and their strategy against McDavid, saying the young captain will see a lot of the top players in his career and has to overcome tight checking and rough stuff.
"Sometimes it's easier to get the match you want on the road because if Nazem's going to check against Connor, as soon as Connor comes out or if he's not out, they change and they just match," said McLellan.
"When I look at Ryan Kesler, Anze Kopitar, Jamie Benn, a number of these high-end players that Connor has to play against every night, he's done a real, real good job against all of those players. Sometimes you've got to play through it, sometimes our checkers need to do a good job on their skill as well."
"You expect it," said McDavid. "They're not reinventing the wheel here, it's not something I haven't seen before. They did a good job last game. Good for them, I guess. But I'm looking forward to tonight."
Whenever Toronto comes to town, their fans come out to watch. The media also fills the dressing room and press box. The energy in the building is a little different.
Tonight pits two young, exciting, talent-packed squads against each other. That includes the last two first-overall picks in McDavid and Auston Matthews. That storyline only adds to the excitement and adds pressure to the driver of the team.
"Any time you play a Canadian team there's obviously a lot more excitement and a lot more media attention to it," said Oilers winger Jordan Eberle. "With Matthews and Connor, there's a lot of media here. When you ask Connor about it, his mindset is just going to be on the game, not so much the matchup but the getting the two points and getting the win. We're coming off a tough loss. We have had a couple days to reenergize and get our batteries charged again. For Connor, he's a generational talent. In the big spotlight, he always steps up. As a leader and supporting cast, we've got to help him out."
As for the atmosphere in the building, defenceman Oscar Klefbom says that's not the area of focus.
"We're so focused on the game," he said. "We cannot just focus on the stands and how many people are there cheering for Toronto. It's always fun to play Toronto. It's a very popular team in the League and it gives a really good atmosphere to play."
As for the players on each side, there is some added excitement as they're able to match up against top-end skill and speed.
"They're a very young, hungry team," said Klefbom. "They have a lot of rookies this year but very hungry with a lot of skill. I think we can compare this team as well with a lot of skill and a lot of players who come into the League very hungry. It's very fun to be on the ice with Jesse (Puljujarvi) and Connor in those kind of games where there's a lot of speed and a lot of skill."
Milan Lucic was not on the ice for morning skate, but McLellan expects him to be available tonight. Tyler Pitlick skated as a possible placeholder on the top line with McDavid and Puljujarvi. Patrick Maroon was with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Benoit Pouliot was with Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula. The fourth line had Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian on it. There were no changes to the defence. Cam Talbot was first off the ice after the morning skate.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (12-9-2) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (9-8-4)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MST; Televised on Sportsnet West
This game marks the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Maple Leafs this season and the lone game in Edmonton. The last time these teams played in Edmonton, the Oilers won by a score of 5-2. Connor McDavid posted his first career five-point (2G, 3A) game and Jordan Eberle posted four points (3G, 1A), including his first career hat trick.
The last time these teams met was at the start of the month on November 1st in Toronto, where the Leafs won by a score of 3-2 in overtime.
Oilers team scope:
Tonight, the Oilers will be wearing their alternate orange sweater for the sixth time in 2016-17. The team is expected to wear it 10-15 times in total over the course of the 2016-17 season. Overall, the Oilers have a 7-4-1 record while the wearing the alternate jerseys, since introducing it for the 2015-16 season.
Connor McDavid remains in top spot in NHL scoring through Sunday's games, with one point (1G) in a 3-2 loss to Arizona. McDavid now has 29 points (10G, 19A) in 23 games.
McDavid has points in his last five games (5G, 5A, 10PTS), and goals in three of his past five games. He has points in 12 of the team's 15 games in November, and points in 16 of the team's 23 games this season.
McDavid also leads the NHL in assists (19), multi-point games (8) and 3-point games (five).
Forward Milan Lucic has 29 career points (7G, 22A) in 43 games against Toronto. ... In 24 career games against the Leafs, forward Benoit Pouliot has 21 points (7G, 14A). ... Forward Jordan Eberle has 16 points (6G, 10A) in 11 career games against the Leafs. His only career hat trick came against Toronto on Feb. 11, 2016, in a 5-2 win for the Oilers. ... In two career games against the Leafs, forward Connor McDavid has five points (2G, 3A)
Maple Leafs team scope:
James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner lead the way for the Leafs with 18 points through 21 games. Marner has seven goals and van Riemsdyk has nine. ... Auston Matthews has nine goals and 17 points through 21 games. The Scottsdale, Arizona native started the season on fire with 10 points in his first six games then only had three assists in his next 13 games but is starting to head up again with three goasl and four points in his last two outings.
The Leafs have essentially straddled the .500 mark for the entire season. They've never been more than two games over .500 and one game under .500 through 21 games. At their high watermark, the Leafs were 8-6-3. They've only one one of their last four games -- that was last time out 4-2 over Washington.