The Edmonton Oilers are not only focused on easing some of the sting from three previous losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs when they visit their Scotia North Division rivals on Saturday and Monday. They have a longer-term goal as well.
“We might be playing them in seven more games (in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) so you obviously want to send a message,” Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl said Friday. “We want to beat them and show them that we’re a good team too. Those next two games are going to be fun, they’re going to be exciting. I think fans will love it. And obviously we don’t have to talk about the importance.”
The Oilers last played the Maple Leafs in a three-game series Feb. 27-March 3 at Edmonton, and were swept, outscored 13-1. Edmonton is 7-2-0 since then and is two points behind first-place Toronto having played one more game.
“I wouldn’t say (it left) doubt,” Oilers defenseman Kris Russell said of the three-game sweep. “We’ve played and beat this team before. The way those three games went last time is not something that sits well with us, but at the same time we’re a confident group in the way our team plays, and when we play the right way we feel we can beat anyone.
“Credit to Toronto in those three games. They outexecuted us, outworked us. It was the way they outcompeted us and kind of outplayed us that was disappointing for our group, but we’ve got a big chance here, the two games here, a chance to right that wrong, kind of.”
Prior to those three losses, Edmonton split four games against Toronto, with each team scoring 12 goals.
That three-game series isn’t the Oilers’ only focus this week. They’re also aware they’ll need to get up to speed quickly, having had games at the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, Wednesday and Friday postponed because two Montreal players entered NHL COVID-19 protocol.
The Oilers spent much of the week resting and practicing in Montreal, then traveled to and practiced in Toronto on Friday. They haven’t played since defeating Winnipeg 4-2 at Edmonton on March 20. The Maple Leafs did not practice Friday before the game Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, CITY, TVAS, NHL.TV).
“During the season there are some ups and downs,” Edmonton coach Dave Tippett said. “We didn’t play very well the last three games against [Toronto], gave up early goals. The other games were real tight games. We just have to get back to playing the way we can. We’ve got to monitor, see how we come out of this break here. We’ve been sitting on the road for a week.”
The series in Edmonton marked the only time this season Oilers captain Connor McDavid went three straight games without a point. He leads the NHL with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) in 34 games and shares the lead in goals with Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews.
Since then, McDavid has scored 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in a nine-game point streak.
Draisaitl, second to McDavid with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 34 games, had one assist in those three games against Toronto and has scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in nine games since.
“You guys make way more out of it than they do,” Tippett said. “We’re more worried about getting ourselves back and playing from this week.”
Draisaitl said the Oilers are more than aware of all the circumstances converging in these next two games, but they also have the bigger picture in mind about continuing their push toward the playoffs.
“Obviously we want to get them back,” he said. “There’s no question about that. But at the same time we have to understand that this isn’t do-or-die for us right now, these two games. We’ve got to play our game. We’ve got to be sound defensively, play a good road game, a solid road game, and I think we have a good chance of winning some games.”