MONTREAL – Here’s the thing about coming to see Connor McDavid play: Under no circumstances should you leave the building early.
Even if it’s a 5-1 game, and the Bell Centre crowd has already started singing “Ole, Ole, Ole,” and you’re concerned about the traffic.
Because if you happened to slip out of Saturday’s game here when a television timeout arrived with about five minutes remaining, you missed easily the most exciting moment of the afternoon.
A little McDavid magic. Something from nothing.
“From the bench, it happened so quickly you couldn’t even tell that he went between his legs,” said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban, with reverence.
How best to put words to five seconds of hockey genius?
All McDavid needed was the tiniest opening – in this case, a puck bouncing off Jeff Petry’s left skate in the neutral zone – to set the building abuzz. He promptly turned Alexei Emelin inside out, and with Petry disrupting his path to the net by extending his stick, McDavid pulled the puck between his legs and nearly picked the top corner.
It grazed the top of the crossbar over Ben Scrivens’ right shoulder.
Most amazingly, the sequence came at the end of a minute-long shift for the Edmonton Oilers centre. And he pulled off the wizardry while traveling at top speed.
“I just thought it was the best play possible,” McDavid explained. “I couldn’t really pull it back and shoot, and Scrivens was kind of cheating on the one side so I tried to get a little creative and make something happen.”
Petry thought McDavid would go to his backhand because that’s what every other player would do in that situation. It explains why Scrivens was cheating to the left side of his net.
Instead, we got one more reminder that McDavid has an ability to make skilled plays while skating faster than basically anyone else in the league.
“A lot of guys can do (those moves), but at top speed in a game situation?” said Subban.
How about with someone closely defending him?
“No. No. Listen, let’s be honest here,” he continued. “That’s … I was happy at that point in time there was only three minutes left in the game. I said, ‘OK, hopefully he’s done.”’
“It was impressive,” said Petry.
All of this praise came flowing out of an afternoon where McDavid didn’t have his top game. He was clearly the Oilers best player, but that wasn’t really saying too much after they got thoroughly beaten by a Habs team in disarray.
Beyond an excellent first shift – where McDavid deftly knocked down an ankle-high pass and set up linemate Jordan Eberle for a glorious chance – there weren’t many memorable moments until his between-the-legs madness.
Again, you just never know when No. 97 is going to pull you out of your seat.
It seems pretty safe to say that the gorgeous goal he scored earlier this week against Columbus, going 1-on-2 against defencemen Justin Falk and Jack Johnson before deking out Joonas Korpisalo, won’t be a one-off.
“He’s very special,” said teammate Leon Draisaitl. “I don’t know if I need to talk about his skill set anymore. I think everybody knows how good of a player he is. He’s a special guy.”
We’ve arrived at a strange point where everyone in the NHL seems willing to concede McDavid’s greatness even though he’s only played 16 games because of the three months he missed with a broken clavicle.
Subban spent most of Saturday’s game getting in his ear, trying to disrupt McDavid’s rhythm during his first visit to the Bell Centre as an NHLer. The two know one another fairly well – McDavid once played with Subban’s younger brother, Jordan, in the Greater Toronto Hockey League – and P.K. is clearly a big fan.
Despite being eight years older than McDavid and one of the NHL’s biggest stars himself, he’s happy to share the same stratosphere with the 19-year-old rookie.
“What I hold from Connor, I’m sure it might have changed now, but he did like an article at under-17s and someone sent it to me,” said Subban. “It said who was his favorite player and he said it was me. So I’m still going to hold that, possibly the best player in the league over the next couple of years was saying I was his favourite player.
“He’s going to be a superstar in the league, so if he has good things to say about me I’m good.”
There is no shortage of good things to say about McDavid.
Still in the infancy of his career, he’s already appointment viewing. Even when he’s not quite feeling it – he didn’t record a shot on net against the Habs – he’s capable of doing something you’ve probably never seen before.
The fans who stuck around until the end on Saturday certainly recognized that they were witnessing greatness. They cheered McDavid for a good 20 seconds after he nearly scored an unbelievable goal against their team.