Oilers visit Maple Leafs hoping to build on Saturday's win
TORONTO -- The Edmonton Oilers have a lot of ground to make up after a slow start to the season when expectations were high.
Their 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night could be another step in the right direction.
"It's a big win for us because in the last few games our starts haven't been very good," said Oilers left winger Jujhar Khaira, who scored two goals on Saturday. "This time we got the first one and kept going. The team played great and it showed up on the scoreboard."
It would mean even more if they could build on it with a solid outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre.
The Maple Leafs, who have had a good start to the season, also won on Saturday, holding on to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3.
With both teams playing Saturday night, it should take the sting away from playing on consecutive nights.
"Yeah, to me it's not like a back-to-back because they played, too, so it's the same for both teams," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "Tonight, we went with a shorter lineup -- they played so few guys, we ended up playing less guys -- but we'll have to dig in and find a way to win a game tomorrow."
Once again, the Maple Leafs (19-10-1) had strong goaltending from Frederik Andersen, who stopped 33 shots in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Babcock said backup goalie Curtis McElhinney will get the start against the Oilers.
The Maple Leafs beat the Oilers 6-4 in Edmonton on Nov. 30. Toronto's Patrick Marleau was given credit for the goal that gave the Leafs a 5-4 lead when Oilers defenseman Kris Russell shot the puck into his own goal with 1:05 to play in the third period.
Connor McDavid, the best player on the Oilers (12-15-2), he should be a challenge for Toronto center Auston Matthews, who did not have a shot on goal during the game Saturday when he went against Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
"It's fun and it always presents a pretty good challenge, especially when you face two players of their caliber (on back-to-back nights)," Matthews said. "You have to make sure you're ready because those guys will make you pay."
Matthews appears to have survived unscathed from a late-game collision against the Penguins.
"Yeah, he said he was ready to go for the next shift, so he seemed to be all right," Babcock said.
With two goals against the Canadiens, Khaira proved he was worthy of being moved up from the fourth line to play on the same line for the first time with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Strome.
He has five goals on the season and has nine points in his past 10 games after a slow start.
"I think it's confidence," Khaira said. "I know I can play in this league. It always takes a little bit of time to figure it out. You get little stints here and there but being on the team regularly it's definitely different. Over time I'm slowly learning."
The Maple Leafs are young, and Babcock was asked if the win over the Penguins was a sign of the team maturing.
"Sure, and yet in saying all that, we showed signs of being a young team tonight," Babcock said. "Instead of just keeping your foot on the gas and getting the next one we got on our heels and let them take it to us a little bit, but that's all part of learning and that's the confidence that you earn as you become a good team."
Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot skated Saturday morning as he returns from a groin injury that has put him out for four games. He is not ready to play yet, however.
"I talked to him after his skate and he felt pretty darn good," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "If it was as simple just going in and making the simple save I think we'd have a great goaltender, but there's a lot more to it. There's the athleticism, there's the desperate save that we want to make sure he can make and feel good after. We're going to take our time with him, but I think he's getting closer."
Goaltender Laurent Brossoit is 2-2-0 as Talbot's replacement after the win on Saturday.
"We played a really impressive game defensively," Brossoit said. "They kept everything to the outside and made my life really easy."
Updated December 10, 2017