Maple Leafs ready to adjust vs. frustrated Oilers

NHL Hockey

The struggling Edmonton Oilers not only will be desperate for a victory, they figure to have revenge on their mind when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

An Edmonton-Toronto game usually features a matchup between the two of the NHL’s best players in Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.

Matthews, however, had a positive rapid test result for COVID-19 on Monday morning and has not practiced with the team since. The more reliable PCR test came back negative on Tuesday.

It means Matthews still has a chance to face an Oilers squad who lost 4-1 to the host New York Rangers on Monday night and are in a 2-8-2 skid.

“I thought we did a lot of things well tonight,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said. “(But) our goaltender wasn’t very good and we didn’t find enough pucks at the net to get us back in the game.”

Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen allowed four goals on 28 shots.

The Maple Leafs defeated the host Oilers 5-1 on Dec. 14 to complete a six-game losing streak for Edmonton. The victory came just before a number of postponed games for Toronto leading into the extended holiday break.

“There’s a lot of adversity here,” Tippett said on Monday. “We’re learning a lot about our team. We’ve gone through a lot of injury issues and COVID issues. We haven’t played as well as we’d like to as a group. There’s lots to improve on.”

The Oilers are 0-2-2 after four games of a five-game road trip that ends Wednesday.

“It’s been frustrating,” Oilers defenseman Cody Ceci said. “I think it’s kind of affecting our play now. It’s easy to play when you’re confident and winning. It gets tougher when you’re going through something like this.

“I think it’s definitely affecting the mood of players. When you start getting down on yourself and you get frustrated with teammates (and) we have to do the best we can to get over that. A win will go a long way for this group. We started the year off really well so we know we can do it, we just need to get back to that.”

After their victory at Edmonton, the Maple Leafs did not play again until Saturday because of COVID-19 postponements, a span of 18 days. They defeated the Senators 6-0 in a game that included two short-handed goals on the same penalty.

With Matthews missing practice as a precaution, captain John Tavares was moved from second-line center to Matthews’ spot on the first line between Mitchell Marner and Michael Bunting. Alexander Kerfoot, a winger on the second line, shifted to center between William Nylander and Ilya Mikheyev, who was moved up to the second unit.

“We did adjust quickly, just try the things we did last season without Auston,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We liked some of those looks and how it went for us, and we liked that we could throw Kerfoot back into the middle. It keeps (David) Kampf and (Jason) Spezza (third- and fourth-line centers) solid in their spots, and we like the way the lines shake up.

“We may make adjustments for (Wednesday’s game) and later in the week, but Alex has shown he can play center and do a good job for us. We haven’t used him on the power play yet this year, but he can help us there as well.”

Keefe said that assistant coach Dean Chynoweth was confirmed positive for COVID-19.

Toronto right winger Ondrej Kase “tweaked something” in a workout and is listed as day-to-day.

–Field Level Media

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