TORONTO — Injuries to Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton forced the Toronto Maple Leafs to shuffle their lines against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
When it came time to draw from the deck, Toronto turned up aces.
"In a game where you go into it without two very important players for us, a game where you get down after a shorthanded goal the way that we did and respond right away, that was a big sign for us," Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said."
The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 4-2 at Scotiabank Arena. Thornton's absence was expected as the veteran suffered a rib fracture in the first match between the teams on Wednesday. Matthews' status wasn't as clear after the forward sat out of practice with upper-body soreness on Thursday.
The uncertainty around Matthews forced Keefe to change all four lines, and they made meaningful contributions. Adam Brooks scored his first NHL goal on the power play in his season debut. His insertion into the lineup and spot on the team's secondary power-play unit were made possible by Matthews' absence.
"I think today, when they found out he wasn't playing, I was going to go in," Brooks said.
The Winnipeg-born Brooks hadn't played in a competitive game since Feb. 15. He was one of a handful of players who have regularly practiced with the team's taxi squad, a new provision for this season that allows extra players to practice and travel with their NHL clubs while not on the team's active roster.
Brooks' goal at 5:55 of the second period came just 43 seconds after Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl scored a shorthanded goal to open the scoring.
Maple Leafs forward Alex Kerfoot moved up from the team's third-line center role to the second-line with Jimmy Vesey and William Nylander. The trio combined for a second-period goal that gave them a 2-1 lead at 11:16.
"What I liked most is they scored a 5-on-5 goal," Keefe said. "Those have been hard to come by."
Vesey had the best 5-on-5 Corsi percentage of any player on the night at 81 percent. Nylander and Kerfoot were the next-best Maple Leafs at 73 percent and 67 percent, respectively.
John Tavares moved up to play on the team's top line alongside Zack Hyman and Mitch Marner. Tavares and Marner spent much of last season playing on a line together, and their chemistry was evident when they connected on the power-play for the game-winning goal at 11:46.
The Maple Leafs answered an important question of depth they hadn't faced this season. With virtually no salary cap space to bolster their lineup beyond their system of call-ups, they got the job done against a normally-potent Oilers team.
Although they didn't register on the scoresheet, Keefe praised his team's third line by saying Wayne Simmonds had his best night so far.
Simmonds played a season-high 11:41. He skated on the wing alongside Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall, who also made his season debut.
Every move in place of Matthews and Thornton transitioned seamlessly.
"To get a hard-fought win like that, you need the whole group," Tavares said.
Marner scored an empty-net goal at 19:59 of the third period and assisted on Tavares goal. He has four goals and four assists in six games this season.
Tavares leads the NHL in four power-play goals and five power-play points in six games.
Frederik Andersen made 30 saves and made some difficult saves, including a glove save off of Connor McDavid's shot in the first period.
The Danish goaltender has stabilized his game. After allowing nine goals in his first two starts, Andersen has recorded a .938 save percentage in his last three games.