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Mar 22, 2024 4:31 pm

Connor McDavid, Oilers set to tangle with Auston Matthews, Leafs

Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers know that they will need to play a more complete game when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

It will be a matchup between two of the league’s two most dynamic players in Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Edmonton captain Connor McDavid.

There is an extra element to the game in Edmonton’s Zach Hyman. The former Maple Leafs forward has 48 goals this season, nine fewer than the league-leading Matthews.

Against a team like the high-octane Maple Leafs (39-20-9, 87 points), the Oilers (42-21-4, 88 points) can ill afford a start like they had on Thursday. Edmonton surrendered the game’s first two goals before erupting for five in the third period of an 8-3 rout of the Buffalo Sabres. The game followed a casual effort by Edmonton in a 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

The Maple Leafs also are having consistency problems as demonstrated in their past two road games. They defeated the Washington Capitals 7-3 on Wednesday, one night after dropping a 4-3 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers. Toronto also wasted an early three-goal lead last Saturday in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Oilers, who are 9-1-2 in their past 12 games, received two goals each from Hyman and defenseman Mattias Ekholm and four assists from McDavid on Thursday.

“We’re finding ways to get wins,” McDavid said. “But I would still like to see a little bit more control of games. I still think we’re finding our game. It’s nice that we’re winning and producing wins, but I still think there’s more there to be had, more urgency.”

There was a discussion about the issue after the first period on Thursday.

“We all know it’s about to get to crunch time and we can’t lean into games and just sit there and wait,” Ekholm said. “I think we have a pretty mature team in here and everybody understands when we play good and bad, but sometimes it needs to be said. Whatever was said I felt helped.”

Matthews scored two goals and set up three others and Max Domi had four assists Wednesday for the Maple Leafs.

With Mitchell Marner still sidelined by an ankle injury, Domi has moved onto a line with Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi.

“Those guys were feeling it tonight,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Just made plays. “Max was outstanding. I thought Auston put on a clinic through most of the game here tonight. And (Bertuzzi) was battling through something here today with illness, and even he, once he got going, was good.”

Bertuzzi struggled during warmup because of the illness and did not get on the ice until the first period was nearly half over. He remained in the lineup only because defenseman TJ Brodie was told to take the day off, and there were no other players available.

“(Domi is) such a smart player out there,” Matthews said. “He makes the game easy. He can make plays. He moves into space really well and just communicates a lot out there. So, it makes it easy on myself and Bert to move into space and try to find each other. I really liked the chemistry tonight.”

The Oilers defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2 on Jan. 16 at Edmonton. Matthews scored and set up a goal for Toronto, while McDavid had an assist for Edmonton.

–Field Level Media

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