Hockey Night in Toronto
It is now game three of this crucial seven-game road trip and the stakes keep getting higher.
Tonights game is on Hockey Night in Canada with the Edmonton Oilers squaring off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 5:00 p.m. MST. So far on the trip the Oilers are 0-1-1 with a regulation loss in Boston followed by an overtime defeat in Buffalo.
"We bought ourselves a bit of time with the point (Thursday). Now we go into Toronto with a chance to get the road trip in the first three games to .500," said head coach Craig MacTavish.
Thursday night, the Oilers went head-to-head with the Buffalo Sabres – the number-one team in the NHL – and for 60 minutes of hockey they outplayed them in their home rink. However, the Sabres caught a break 1:02 into OT when Daniel Briere scored to edge out the Oilers 2-1.
"We got one point," Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson remarked. "We cant dwell on losing the one. Weve got to focus on getting that one point, looking at the game and see what we did right."
Roloson made 29 saves and was named first star in a losing cause.
"I thought we played a great game all-around and we have to use it as a building block to keep on going here," he said.
Edmonton remains six points behind the Minnesota Wild for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Northwest Division. But with a head-to-head match-up with Minnesota looming as the seventh and final game of this road trip, the Oilers see the importance of winning now to ensure thats a crucial game with playoff implications.
"We did a lot of things better at a higher tempo. We have to get this road trip back on track and thats the type of hockey we have to play," Oilers assistant coach Billy Moores stated. "We have to carry that forward into Toronto."
The Maple Leafs are also in a battle for their own playoff lives out in the Eastern Conference. Currently, they are in a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with the NY Islanders and Montreal.
With only one of those three teams getting in, the streaky Leafs need to find some consistency. After winning five straight games to close out January, Toronto proceeded to drop their next three in a row before a big win in Philadelphia on Thursday put them back on track.
During the game, the Leafs raced out to a 3-0 first-period lead against the Flyers and cruised to a 4-2 victory. Jeff ONeill netted his 19th goal of the season to start the game and seems to have regained his lost scoring touch.
"I can get 30 goals," O'Neill said, proclaiming his renewed confidence. "That's kind of what I'm looking at right now. Just to come through and help the team and have some timely goals, that's all I'm asking of myself right now."
Leafs head coach Paul Maurice agreed that ONeill has a hot hand right now and is going to get more ice-time as a result.
"Jeff didn't play much the first 20 games of the season," he said. "He's not on our number one power-play unit and he doesn't get five-on-three time, which is where he was when he scored 40 (with the Carolina Hurricanes). He's a shooter, no question."
Despite the streaky nature of the Leafs recently, Maurice feels the team is right on track and may even be peaking at just the right time.
"We've played well for quite some time now and we needed to stay in contention for a spot," he said. "This is going to get a lot tighter than it is now within the next three weeks. But the fact that we're right in the mix now allows us to be positive."
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton - Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Fernando Pisani (concussion) is doubtful. Toronto – Darcy Tucker (foot) is out. Kyle Wellwood (hernia) is out. Michael Peca (broken leg) is out.
OILERS TO WATCH: Toby Petersen was third among all Oilers forwards in ice-time last game, behind only Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth. He was rewarded for his strong play by head coach Craig MacTavish and was given a shift on defence to open the overtime period. "We wanted to give Toby an opportunity on the four-on-four and well see him again," MacTavish said Horcoff had probably one of his best games of the season with eight shots on goal including many high-quality scoring chances. He also scored the Oilers only goal Former Leaf Jason Smith played a season-high 25:41 of ice-time Thursday in Buffalo. He blocked three shots to move into fourth in the league in that category with 151.
MAPLE LEAFS TO WATCH: In 40 career games against the Oilers, Mats Sundin leads all Leafs with 18 goals and 42 points head-to-head versus Edmonton. Sundin has 23 goals and 53 points, leading the club in both categories despite missing seven games due to injury Defenceman Tomas Kaberle is a dangerous threat from the blueline. With 45 points on the season, hes second on the Leafs in scoring and tied for fifth in the league among defencemen Toronto gets a lot of its offence from the back-end as blueliner Bryan McCabe is third on the team in scoring with 41 points. He also has a goal and three assists in his last three games. Both McCabe and Kaberle average close to 27 minutes a game in ice-time.
FAST FACTS: Leafs netminder Andrew Raycroft has made 19 straight starts dating back to December 30th. The last time a Leafs goaltender started 19 consecutive games was Felix Potvin who accomplished the feat almost 10 years ago from Feb. 1 to Mar. 19, 1997 With a record of 11-12-5, Toronto has the fourth-worst home record in the NHL The Leafs penalty killing ranks 26th in the NHL at 79.0% and is even worse at Air Canada Centre where they have a record of 78.7% (29th)... Edmonton's PK remains tops in the league on the road at 92.3% but their power play is now 27th overall at 15.2%.