TORONTO — Limiting the Edmonton Oilers duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to one goal and one assist is typically a recipe for success.
But a lack of execution at the other end resulted in no points for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was a strange game,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “To me, it was the first game that felt like a game with no fans in that it was a really quiet and slow pace to the game.”
The Maple Leafs fell to the Oilers 3-1 at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday. The game fell short of the goal fest promised with talented forwards loaded on both rosters.
The opening period saw a lack of scoring chances from either side. Despite the Maple Leafs firing 12 shot attempts compared to six from the Oilers, Toronto carried the puck for most of the frame, but couldn’t execute.
One example that set the tone for evening occurred at the 14:54 mark. The Maple Leafs entered the Edmonton attack zone and passed the puck 16 times in just over a minute without mustering a solid shooting attempt.
“We have to play better in the o-zone,” Mitch Marner said. “We have to play more down low in their zone and make it harder for them.”
When the Maple Leafs got low, they missed their passes at the blueline. At other times, they stumbled to get up to speed.
“I thought we were really slow and disjointed,” Keefe said. “We didn’t play with enough pace to sustain any pressure.”
The numbers back up Keefe’s assessment.
Although Toronto had better possession numbers for much of the game (56 percent Corsi), Edmonton began to pull away in the second period in expected goals (a metric that measures the quality of shot attempts) and finished the game at 62 percent.
Toronto played well defensively. They kept stars like McDavid and Draisaitl out of high-danger areas. But for a team built on firepower, it provided little consolation.
The Oiler’s first goal of the game came at the expense of a bad clearing attempt in Maple Leafs’ crease from forward Jimmy Vesey. The puck bounced off teammate Jake Muzzin’s foot before redirecting into the net. Kailer Yamamoto received credit for the unassisted goal at 10:42 of the first period.
Auston Matthews tied the game 1-1 at 6:44 of the third period, but Draisaitl scored the eventual game-winner on the power play at 9:12.
“We keyed on those guys (McDavid and Draisaitl) in the pre scout, but I don’t think we can get away from our game, too,” Matthews said. “We have to go out and play our game to try and produce offense.”
Matthews finished the game with six hits.
To kickstart the offense, the Maple Leafs opened the third period by moving Joe Thornton off the first line and placed Zach Hyman in his spot alongside Matthews and Marner. Ilya Mikheyev moved up from the third line to play with John Tavares and William Nylander.
Thornton played one shift with Vesey and Alexander Kerfoot before leaving the game with an injury after a check from Edmonton’s Josh Archibald.
“It looks like he’s definitely going to miss some time with us,” Keefe said. “We don’t know the extent of it, but he’s going to have to get more tests and imaging.”
The Leafs have played the last two games with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. It’s been the only way the team has been able to dress defenseman Mikko Lehtonen while staying under the salary cap.
Nick Robertson suffered a knee injury in the team’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, but has remained on Toronto’s active roster. Thornton’s injury virtually assures that one of them will be placed on long term injured reserve (Robertson’s injury timeline is at least four weeks, according to Keefe) to have the necessary cap room to call up another player.
The Maple Leafs play the Oilers again on Friday.