EDMONTON — So, here’s the question: Will Connor McDavid’s speed ever cease to amaze?
When might we watch the Edmonton Oilers captain go wide on a premier defenceman like T.J. Brodie, or Drew Doughty last season, or split the world-class pairing of Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman at the World Cup of Hockey, and stop feeling the hair on our arms stand on end?
The answer: Hopefully never.
“I know exactly how the defencemen in Calgary feel right now. I play against Connor in every single practice,” said Oilers blueliner Oscar Klefbom, moments after his team had opened the season with a 3-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
McDavid had all the goals — a rebound, a breakaway and into an empty net — the first time in team history that an Oiler recorded a hat trick in a season opener.
“He can just make you look silly, he’s so fast,” said Klefbom. “His control with the puck, it’s really fun to see from our side of the ice.”
This was a bit of a dreary affair at times, as the Oilers laid down a defensive masterpiece and Flames goalie Mike Smith valiantly kept the coals alive on any chance the Flames had to pull a point out of Rogers Place.
McDavid, however, was worth twice the price of admission, splitting Brodie and Dougie Hamilton for a breakaway just over a minute into the game. From there his speed, and the omnipresence every time he is on the ice that he can bust out on a breakaway, kept the fans entertained and the Flames nervous.
“He’s the best player in the world for a reason,” sighed Flames captain Mark Giordano. “Him and Sid (Crosby) are neck-and-neck. He has incredible speed. It was a 1-0 game going into the third and our goalie gave us a chance. But too many opportunities for him and their team.”
Truly, we should stop there and talk about someone else. Like Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot, who opened his season with a 26-save shutout. Or Smith, who faced 45 shots and looks like the tonic Calgary hopes he will be. Maybe Klefbom’s nine shots on goal, or the playoff-like level of team defence Edmonton displayed in Game 1 of the 2017-18 NHL season.
But alas, come June, we’ll remember this game for only one person.
“Once Connor gets a step on you, and you have to turn and try to catch him?” said Talbot. “We see him in practice, all last season, the season before… It’s really not new for us. But still, it never ceases to amaze you.”
Flames coach Glen Gulutzan has seen enough of McDavid for a lifetime. His club went 0-4 against the Oilers last year, with McDavid notching four goals and seven points. The Flames have four games left with Edmonton this season, and were badly outmatched Wednesday.
“He had the goals, but it wasn’t just about him,” Gulutzan said. “They beat us in almost every department. They won the battles on the wall. They were clean on their breakouts. They made plays. I thought their team was all-around better than us tonight. We have got to be better.”
The theory on Calgary was that with the addition of the slick puck-handler Smith in goal and Travis Hamonic on defence, teams would struggle to find prolonged zone time against them. The puck would be moved out too quickly, is how popular thought was leaning.
Well, that could yet prove true. The Flames aren’t there yet, however.
Outshot 45-26, and Corsi’ed into the ice, the only man that stood between a 3-0 game and a 6-0 game was Smith, who was spectacular. Talbot had a shutout and was the game’s third star behind No. 1 McDavid and No. 2 Smith. If team defence could get a star, Talbot may have finished fourth.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better team game from this group in a long time. Give our guys credit — they didn’t make me do a whole lot tonight,” Talbot said. “Any time you can limit a team with that kind of offence to, what, four or five (scoring) chances? That’s a good night for everybody.”
McDavid of course, spread the love around the locker room, missing only his own stall. He even had a point about the pundits, whose praise was misplaced on this night.
“Everybody was making a big deal about Calgary’s defence,” McDavid said, “but it was our defence that was great tonight. They were moving pucks up to the forwards so we could do what we get paid to do.”
Indeed, the captain earned his game cheque on this night.
McDavid is not earning that $12.5 million salary yet. It doesn’t kick in until next season, and at this rate, the only question next season might be an obvious one.
Is $12.5 million enough?