Maple Leafs vs. Oilers observations: Bobby McMann, Pontus Holmberg take centre stage

There’s always something to look forward to when the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers face each other. These are two teams with Stanley Cup aspirations who have some of the best players in the league. On paper, the Leafs are at a disadvantage, missing three of their top nine forwards in Mitch Marner, Tyler Bertuzzi and Calle Järnkrok but that didn’t stop them in this one. It was the perfect mix of skill, competitiveness, grit and survival.

The Leafs had all the offence to start, and they were up 5-0 by the end of the middle frame, chasing Stuart Skinner from the net. Ironically enough, this likely wasn’t too big of a deficit for the Oilers to overcome. Not only do they have the star power to force a comeback, but their last game against the Buffalo Sabres saw them score five goals in the third period. Penalties to Conor Timmins and Connor Dewar gave them the opportunity to do it again in the final period of this game.

Zach Hyman inched closer to the 50-goal mark with his 49th of the season on the first power play opportunity. Corey Perry made it 5-2 on the team’s second chance. With time running out, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch pulled Calvin Pickard, and Leon Draisaitl brought Edmonton within two, scoring his 36th of the year. Not only did the goal amplify the pressure and increase the likelihood of an Edmonton comeback, Ilya Samsonov seemed to injure himself on the play, giving Martin Jones the net for the final 3:39 of regulation.

The Leafs held on, and after a few clears and time in the neutral zone instead of their end, Auston Matthews got the opportunity to find the back of the empty net.

Three Stars

1. Ilya Samsonov 

An injury keeping him out of the final four minutes of the game doesn’t change what Samsonov did for the previous 56. Samsonov was perfect heading into the third, stopping all 21 shots. The Oilers still couldn’t beat him at five-on-five, and even when the Leafs were playing well in the first half, Samsonov still had to make some ten-bell saves. He had the glove working a few times in particular, especially when the Oilers were trying to make use of long-point shots for deflections in the slot.

2. Bobby McMann 

Goals 12 and 13 extended an already incredible run for McMann. He had a few significant chances at completing the hat trick with those speed bursts around the opposition and his usage on the second line will earn him more trust points with the coaching staff.

3. Pontus Holmberg

Another two-goal performance from the team’s depth. Holmberg is looking more and more like a player Keefe can use up and down the lineup mid-game and trust to execute (That turnover in the third is a sore spot though).

Quick shoutouts

Max Domi

He won the patience battle over Skinner on the first Holmberg goal and, simply put, won that fight against Mattias Janmark.

Auston Matthews 

Matthews is two away from 60 goals for the second straight year and scored his first empty-net goal of the season.

Martin Jones

Jones made five saves at the most intense part of the game.

Playoff efforts

Your best players need to be your best players, but there is also a consistent pattern of depth scorers being key cogs in playoff hockey when the games matter. Holmberg and McMann answered the bell, especially the former, who started the game on the fourth line and scored on his first shift with Matthews on the top line. Domi continues to look like an excellent option and is looking like an absolute gifter of points.

There are even the plays that lead to goals without getting any credit on the scoresheet. Holmberg’s second goal of the night was assisted by McMann and Morgan Rielly but it starts with Timmins taking advantage of an unaware Adam Henrique at the point and beating him to the puck.

Not making it easy

The Oilers were in control of the opening shift, starting the game with their top line of Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman. They kept the Leafs in their end, cycled the puck and managed to draw a tripping penalty to continue their momentum. It was a different game afterward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs made it difficult on Edmonton. The Tavares line with William Nylander and McMann got the majority of the matchups against McDavid, but the defence pairings made their assignment clear. McDavid and Draisaitl didn’t get the time and space they needed to excel in. At any moment, they had different names on the Leafs’ backend closing in on them or at the very least sticking to them.

Rielly had a good shift in the second period with two stick checks, including one that stopped a Draisaitl one-timer. Simon Benoit’s close on Evander Kane entering the zone during the power play was well-timed while Jake McCabe was making enemies all over the ice with his play.

Neither McDavid nor Draisaitl had a shot on goal after two periods at five-on-five while Hyman and Kane only had one. And even when they started getting their points, they couldn’t get it done at five-on-five. All of their points either came on the power play or with an extra attacker. The penalty kill still needs some adjustments, but the team has to be happy with how they played when the numbers were even.

Good game from Edmundson-Liljegren

Joel Edmundson’s name should be included in the “not making it easy” segment of this, but he deserved his own segment. We saw the best of what Edmundson can do when the pressure and intensity are up in a game. This was the Edmundson delivery night. He was strong on McDavid and Draisaitl whenever he had an opportunity, got down to blocked shots, took some of his own and had the Oilers hating him by the end of the game.

Timothy Liljegren’s offensive awareness and shot generation led to two goals while also still getting to the right spots defensively. The front of the net is still something he needs to get a hold of consistently. He had a good play in the first, getting back to stop Henrique from capitalizing on an odd-man rush and made a save on Hyman in the second. Standing stickless on the penalty kill and leaving the front of the net to block a shot while Perry is left alone isn’t the best course of action but the Edmundson-Liljegren pair is working for me.

Samsonov is alright 

It looked likely at first that a lower-body injury would keep Samsonov out of the lineup for a while. In an attempt to stop Draisaitl, he misses the post, moves to the right and seems to overextend himself.

Thankfully, Keefe said it looked like he’d be fine.


Leafs’ Ilya Samsonov exits game vs. Oilers with injury

Game Score

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Final Grade: A-

The Oilers tried loading up and splitting their talent throughout the game but the Leafs were committed to the plan and the structure in place. There’s only so much you can do to hold McDavid and Draisaitl off the scoresheet but I thought the majority of the team dug in, kept it simple, and didn’t give Edmonton too many gifts to convert on.

What’s next for the Leafs?

Joseph Woll will lead the team out to the ice tomorrow as the projected starter in the second half of this back-to-back against the Carolina Hurricanes at 6:00 p.m. ET.

(Photo: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

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