The week started with such promise for the Edmonton Oilers.
They had won five games in a row, 11 out of their previous 13, and were surging up the standings in the North Division. On top of that, they were getting a chance to see how they measure up against a bonafide contender — and the top team in the division — with three consecutive games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was a chance to show they belonged in the race for the top spot. A chance to show they could hang with with a top team and close the gap on Toronto.
It ended up being an embarrassment.
The Oilers not only dropped all three games against the Maple Leafs, they were completely dominated in every phase of the game including Wednesday’s 6-1 loss.
In total, the Oilers were outscored 13-1 in the series, lost to three different Maple Leafs goalies, were shutout by two of them, and did not actually score their first and only goal until the second period of the third game when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally broke through with a goal on Frederik Andersen. Edmonton’s two-headed monster of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for just one assist (Draisaitl) in the three games.
Not bad enough? Add in the fact that Toronto played the first two games of the series without the NHL’s top-goal scorer (Auston Matthews) while he was held scoreless in Wednesday’s rout. Mitch Marner, Toronto’s other top-scorer, only scored one goal in the three games. It is a reminder as to how much deeper this year’s Maple Leafs team is that they can go into a three-game set like this, get only one goal from their top-two offensive players, and still completely control the series.
Toronto is now 18-4-2 for the season and has a nine-point lead over second-place Winnipeg. The Jets do have two games in hand, while the teams still have nine head-to-head meetings remaining, but that is a pretty significant lead at the halfway point of the season.
The Maple Leafs are also 10 points ahead of third-place Edmonton and own a 5-1-1 record against them in head-to-head meetings. The Maple Leafs have outscored them 25-12 in those games.
It was already expected at the start of the season, but it is pretty obvious that Toronto is the class of this division and it is only going to be a race to see which team finishes in second place behind them. Given the division, the gap between them and the rest of the teams in it, and the playoff format this season this is going to be the Maple Leafs’ best opportunity to make a significant run in the playoffs.
As for the Oilers? Well, they might be pretty good. They might compete with the other teams in the North Division. But it is clear that there is a pretty significant gap between them and the top team.