It was a fantastic goal that Connor McDavid scored, and you’ve now seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 times since Tuesday evening. But as we watch Justin Falk face plant over, and over, and over again, reality does begin to set in somewhat.
Sure, that was a helluva dangle by McDavid, but the defensive pair for Columbus was Falk and the notoriously deficient Jack Johnson. Not exactly Keith and Seabrook, or Robinson and Lapointe.
Let’s see the kid tonight, when he comes across centre ice at the Canadian Tire Centre, looks up and sees perennial Norris candidate Erik Karlsson waiting for him.
Two Sportsnet Magazine cover stars go head-to-head tonight as the Oilers take on the Senators at 7:30pm E.T. on SNW. pic.twitter.com/QOqsAR8nJO
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 4, 2016
“I feel bad for the two (Columbus defencemen) who were out there, because then you’ve got to see yourself on TV for the next six months,” Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch on Wednesday. “You learn that in mites, just keep your eye on his chest and don’t bite on his moves.”
Somehow, that sounds like an oversimplification. We’ll keep Borowiecki’s advice in mind tonight, as the Oilers open a four-game road trip against his Senators in Ottawa.
Besides, that McDavid goal never would have happened, according to tonight’s expected starter Craig Anderson, had Falk not “toe-picked and gave him a breakaway.”
“Gave” him a breakaway?
“If the D doesn’t fall there, it’s a different story,” Anderson told the Ottawa media Wednesday. “It’s just the way things kind of unfolded for him. He still made a great move on the goalie. He’s got skill, he’s got speed, and I think being physical on him will be our key to shutting him down.”
That was the anthem they once sang back in the ‘80s, when Wayne Gretzky began marauding across the National Hockey League with his three- and four-point nights. (We’re not saying for a moment that McDavid is as good as Gretzky, just that the game plan on defending him appears to be the same.)
The problem with Gretzky was, he thought the game so much better than everyone else that he was always two steps ahead of whichever defender was trying to employ that physical game on him. Checking Gretzky, defenceman Brad McCrimmon finally decided, “was like trying to hug fog,” and nobody ever did figure out how to employ the “hit Gretzky” strategy.
As for McDavid, his superior speed suggests that those who aren’t above average skaters will struggle to defend him. That what makes tonight’s tilt so intriguing.
Of his 14 NHL games, McDavid played games No. 1 and 4 against a St. Louis team that has two of the best skating defencemen in the game: Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo. He went pointless in both games.
Nashville’s mobile defence shut him down as well in Game 2, and after a three-point night his first time out against Calgary, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie led the charge in holding McDavid pointless in their next meeting.
Tonight, Karlsson awaits. He has both the speed and skill to handle McDavid, should that be the matchup Senators head coach Dave Cameron chooses.
Of course, Cameron has bigger issues right now. He’s busy trying to get 18 Ottawa skaters to buckle down and play a grade of defensive hockey that stands a chance of propelling the Sens into the post-season.
“I don’t care about what sport you’re in, all the good teams that win take pride in their defensive play and we don’t,” Cameron recently said.
History tells us a staunch, responsible defensive effort will beat the Oilers most nights. Open things up however, and you’re giving Edmonton the game it prefers to play. With McDavid back in the fold the tables may even tilt Edmonton’s way if the Sens feel like playing Saturday afternoon pond hockey.
“I’ve always said the one thing that makes it so tough to defend against Connor is his speed,” said former World Junior teammate and Sens forward Curtis Lazar. “He’s fast to begin with, but he when he gets that puck he accelerates to a new gear. Seeing what he did (Tuesday), he’s going to keep us on our toes.”
Indeed. We’ll be watching.