Emerging stars to collide as Oilers host Maple Leafs
EDMONTON — For the foreseeable future, any matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers will be focused on Auston Matthews versus Connor McDavid.
Mitch Marner is making a pretty good case to be included in future conversations.
All three players will be on display Tuesday night when the Maple Leafs open begin a three-game, five-night swing across western Canada against the Oilers.
Toronto defeated Edmonton 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 1 at the Air Canada Centre, but none of the three emerging stars recorded a point. Nazem Kadri's second goal of the game 12 seconds into the extra session lifted the Maple Leafs to the win.
Since then, McDavid has gone on a tear with a league-best 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 13 games. The top overall pick in 2015 drew an assist in the Oilers' 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, giving him five goals and five assists in a five-game points streak.
At just 19, Edmonton's captain leads the league with 19 assists and 29 points, and needs one goal to tie NHL-leading Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Following that initial meeting, Matthews struggled with just three helpers in nine games. In his last two games, though, the top pick from 2016 had three goals and an assist, including the first game-winning goal of his career in a 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
“(Even when I wasn't scoring), I was still creating chances, still out there playing and I feel like every game there's little things that kind of go unseen that I think I'm improving on,” Matthews told the league's official website.
While Matthews seems to be breaking out of his slump, Marner hasn't slowed down since Toronto's first meeting with Edmonton.
Taken three picks after McDavid, Marner has six goals and six assists in his last 11 games. Over that span, Marner has five multi-point games, including two assists in Saturday's win.
With 18 points, Marner (seven goals, 11 assists) is tied with Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets for the scoring lead among rookies, one point ahead of Matthews (nine goals, eight assists) and three in front of fellow teammate William Nylander (six goals, nine assists), who's day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
The road has not been a welcoming place for the Maple Leafs (9-8-4). Toronto has been outscored 35-24 while going 1-5-4 away from the ACC. Three of the five regulation losses have been one-goal decisions, and the club has been outscored 9-3 while dropping two straight in Edmonton.
“We know we've got three tough tests ahead of us,” said center Tyler Bozak, second on the team with 10 assists. “It's always tough that road swing, playing (Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver) … you can't make the playoffs or go far in this league if you don't win more games on the road.”
Marner said Toronto must continue to stick to its game plan when holding a lead away from home.
“We've had leads for almost every single one of those games,” Marner said. “We've just got to make sure that when we have a lead we're not just backing down, were still playing the same way we want to play.
“I think when we get a lead on the road, we're scared (to) make mistakes. You know, kind of play the game that we played the whole game … not just kind of skating back and giving space to other teams.”
McDavid is the face of the Oilers (12-9-2), but he's not their leading goal-scorer at home. Milan Lucic and Tyler Pitlick share that honor with four apiece. Lucic ended a four-game goal-scoring drought at Rogers Place with his seventh of the season on Sunday while Pitlick has just one in his last five home games.
Cam Talbot has posted a 2.05 goals-against average at home this month, but is just 1-3-0 with the win coming in a shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 21. He made 28 saves in the Oilers' loss at Toronto earlier in the month.
Despite losing two straight, Edmonton leads the Pacific Division by one point over the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
“That's the conversation you want to be part of,” Talbot recently told the Edmonton Sun regarding a postseason berth. “…We're in a pretty good spot right now. We want to continue to move up and put some distance between us and the teams that aren't in playoffs.”
Edmonton hasn't been to the postseason since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup final.