McDavid-Weber matchup brings life to dull game in Montreal

Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya did everything he could to keep his team in it, but the Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot was just a little better as the Oil win it 1-0 in a shootout.

MONTREAL — If you watched Connor McDavid closely in the Edmonton Oilers’ 1-0 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday, you’d have noticed that Shea Weber was never too far out of the frame.

It was a matchup that brought life to an otherwise dull contest.

Of course, McDavid is always worth watching in isolation.

If the 20-year-old sensation hasn’t quite wrestled the title of ‘best hockey player in the world’ away from Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby yet, it’s only a matter of time that he will. Knowing that, your eyes should be focused on everything he does.

From Weber’s vantage, the challenge of facing the phenom from shift to shift is almost incomparable to that of facing any other top player in the league.

"He’s obviously fast," said the six-foot-four, 230-pounder. "But there’s a lot of guys who are fast, too. His hands are as good as his feet and he’s agile and shifty, too. A lot of guys have maybe one or two things here or there, but he’s as close as it gets to having it all."

That much has been on display through the 100 games McDavid has now played in the NHL.

In this one, it took everything Weber had—and everything his teammates had—to keep the kid off the board.

When McDavid picked up a full head of steam in the neutral zone and was going to burn by Weber at the 8:40 mark of the first period, the big man wedged his stick into the Newmarket, Ont., native’s skate and shamelessly made his way to the penalty box thereafter.

He was one of three Canadiens forced into taking penalties just to slow McDavid down in the game.

Weber resorted to other means, too.

Halfway through the second period, with McDavid notching his seventh controlled zone entry of the game, Weber angled him off and used his entire wingspan to keep McDavid from taking a dangerous shot.

In the third period, as McDavid was charging towards Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya, it took every ounce of strength Weber could summon to knock him just slightly off balance.

"He’s strong, too," said Weber.

From the other side of the matchup, McDavid stood in awe of Sicamous, B.C., native.

"I think he’s one of the hardest guys to play against, if not the hardest guy to play against in the league," he said. "You just try and attack him with speed and try and do what you can. But ultimately he’s a pretty tough guy to play against."

Though McDavid has—by now—torched most of the NHL’s best defencemen, he’s been limited to just one assist in three career contests versus Weber.

It’s no coincidence that his best chances of Sunday’s game came with Weber sitting on the bench.

There was none better than the one in overtime, when McDavid strode in on a breakaway and flubbed a shot into Montoya’s left pad while Weber was sipping Gatorade and catching his breath.

By night’s end the stat sheet revealed a two-second difference in time on ice between both players, with Weber playing 25:09 and McDavid playing 25:07.

That in itself tells you how much of an impact the matchup had on the way the game played out. The Canadiens put so much emphasis on shutting McDavid down, that they couldn’t impose themselves. They were outshot 25-15 through two periods and they spent the better part of 65 minutes rocking back on their heels.

"Obviously that’s something you don’t want to do," said Weber. "You always talk about making other teams play your game, play your pace. There were spurts of [the Canadiens dictating play], but we have to get that consistency where we can have it more than just those spurts."


Meanwhile, McDavid has given the Oilers the breathing room to assert themselves.

The team ranks sixth in the NHL in shots per game (31.5), they’ve drawn 170 penalties (two more would place them in the league’s top-10 in the category), and they have seven players in double digits in the goal category.

McDavid, who leads the NHL with 60 points, has authored Edmonton’s resurgence, helped them to 66 points in the standings and a comfortable 11-point margin on the Western Conference’s ninth-place team.

The Oilers head into their bye week intent on resting up for what they hope will be a long playoff push, which is something they haven’t had to concern themselves with since 2006.

Good luck to the guys in Chicago, who will have to face a re-energized McDavid in Edmonton’s first game back next Saturday. They’ll be hard-pressed to do as well as Weber did against him on Sunday.

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