TORONTO – The average ticket to see a hockey game at Air Canada Centre costs $368.60, the highest price tag in the National Hockey League.
On Sunday, it was worth every penny of that exorbitant cover charge to witness Connor McDavid put on a pointless, fruitless, dominant clinic for one of the league’s worst clubs, even in a loss.
“Hockey’s a funny game. Hockey’s a weird game. Sometimes you don’t do anything and you get one or two [points]. Some nights you have your legs and you get nothin’. That’s the way hockey is. I thought I was able to generate some chances.”
During McDavid’s only other trip to play an NHL game back to Toronto, in November 2016, Nazem Kadri weaseled under the star’s skin and crashed his homecoming party with all the subtlety of Frank the Tank.
On McDavid’s second spin ’round the ACC, however, Kadri won more faceoff battles but never got within chirping distance of an assignment too fast for him, for all of us.
“He can flat out fly,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock confirmed.
Two weeks ago, we watched McDavid in Buffalo. He was solid but far from the guy you want to write poems about. So you wonder just how great of a toll McDavid’s bout with the flu was taxing him.
On this night, the 20-year-old MVP was everywhere, always, conjuring up Grade A scoring opportunities on virtually every shift. No one (including all D-men) skated more than McDavid, who logged a game-high 23:37 on the sleepy end of a back-to-back and was still pushing the pace at the buzzer. McDavid’s possession in all situations was a ridiculous 78.3 per cent.
During a 5-on-3 man advantage for Toronto, McDavid the penalty killer broke loose on a breakaway, only to be foiled by McElhinney on a backhand five-hole slip attempt. The kid dusted 36-year-old defender Ron Hainsey wide on another solo rush, cut hard across McElhinney’s crease, but the backup nipped him with a poke check.
“You can see him coming a mile away. When he’s 200 feet away, he starts building speed and it’s like a freight train coming,” the winning goalie said. “He has the ability to dipsy-doodle and just walk through guys. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else like it.”
During the Oilers’ full two-minute 5-on-3 power play, their first double-man advantage of the season, McDavid set up both Milan Lucic and Mark Letestu with perfect feeds in the slot. McElhinney fumbled his stick and the Oilers still couldn’t turn the lamp red.
“We had the looks we wanted. A stick breaks. Off the post… it’s just unlucky,” McDavid said. “5-on-3, you have to score.
“You don’t get anything by getting close. We definitely should’ve scored one goal, maybe a handful.”
And yet, the Oilers scored as many goals in Toronto this weekend as the Seattle Sounders.
A shame “The 97 Show” only rolls through town once a year. When McDavid winds up his wheels, there’s a reflexive gasp and a lean toward the ice. You don’t want to miss what might be.
“We use the word great too loosely in pro sports,” said Mike Cammalleri, who opts for a hyphenated mouthful instead. “There’s that wanna-be-the-best-not-gonna-say-it-out-loud-but-you-can-see-it-in-his-eyes.”
Oilers coach Todd McLellan understands that every team catches a couple of undeserved Ls like this over the 82-game grind, but with six clubs standing between the Oilers and a wild-card slot, results are paramount.
After whipping Montreal Saturday, McLellan’s group had its best chance of stringing together consecutive regulation wins for the first time all year, outshooting Toronto 41-23 and out-attempting the home side 89-47.
Still, the coach still made a point of commending his best player.
“He was outstanding,” McLellan said. “He had the puck on his tape, his legs were going, he was making plays. He commanded the play. Good leaders do that. They rise to the occasion. We didn’t get to the carrot, though.”
Take Auston Matthews off the Maple Leafs, and they go a perfect 5-0-0. Take McDavid off the Oilers, and Buffalo might be worried about getting out-tanked. (Matthews’ absence with an upper-body injury deprived us of a marquee matchup but gave McDavid free rein to hog the creative spotlight.)
Certainly, without having a centreman who operates on an unearthly plane, Patrick Maroon wouldn’t be standing tall, head high, after this shutout loss dropped Edmonton to 12-16-2 and saying things like, “The guys in this room believe. We’re not out of this thing yet. We’re far from out of it.”
With No. 1 goalie Cam Talbot stuck on IR, and a lack of finishers on the roster, McDavid may have to keep churning out performances like Sunday’s if Edmonton is to reach its goal of .500 hockey by Christmas and improve its odds of returning to the playoffs, which stands at a frightening six per cent.
As long as McDavid keeps dressing, we’re saying there’s a chance.
“That’s why he’s our leader,” Maroon said. “That’s why he wears the C.”