WINNIPEG — Setting a National Hockey League record is supposed to come with one of those time honoured dressing room pictures. You know, the smiling player, a missing tooth, a white-taped puck with the trainer’s handwritten number depicting whatever feat was accomplished by our new hockey hero.
This record, though, was like one of those albums you’d buy as a kid in the ’80s. The one where Side A absolutely rocked, but Side B was somewhat less than choice. In fact, it was not even decent.
With a four-point night Connor McDavid set his first ever NHL record Tuesday evening in Winnipeg, by scoring or assisting on each of his team’s first nine goals from the start of a season. (Adam Oates held the record at seven goals, set in 1986-87 for Detroit.)
After his heroics had led to a come-from-behind, 5-4 Oilers overtime win — on a goal by Darnell Nurse that snapped McDavid’s skein at nine — McDavid spoke honestly, and almost with disdain of the new mark.
“You know what? It’s whatever,” he said. “I’m not overly proud of it. I don’t think it’s a stat we should be proud of either. And we found a way to get a goal there at the end, so we don’t ever have to talk about it again.”
If you know McDavid, you would predict that he would not spend any time standing in the glow of a record that spoke poorly of his teammates. Truly, the fact that it took until the 10th goal of the season for three Oilers to produce a goal without the help of McDavid is a double-edged sword.
“It’s remarkable, and it doesn’t surprise me, the player that did it,” said his coach, Todd McLellan. “It’s also a reflection on the rest of our team. We’ve got to get going. We can’t just rely on an individual.
“There are some ‘Let’s get goin’ fellas’ kicks, or chats, that some guys have to receive.”
For now we’ll stay on the positive side of the record, with some signs of life emerging from the rest of this Oilers lineup, one that heads back to Edmonton for Thursday’s home opener against the Boston Bruins.
McDavid has been on a mission through four games this season, with 4-5-9 in four games, and at the morning skate, when Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele was asked about the debate over who the game’s best player might be — McDavid or Auston Matthews — he foreshadowed the evening to come.
“I’m sure Connor likes challenges,” Scheifele said, “and wants to be the best player he can be. I’m sure Auston having a great start is only pushing him to do more.
“And that’s bad news for us.”
Oh boy, was it ever.
After a pair of early Adam Lowry goals put Edmonton behind, McDavid stepped around Jacob Trouba and beat Connor Hellebuyck with a lovely in-close shot to make it 2-1. Then, with the Oilers trailing 4-1 after two periods, McDavid grabbed his team by the collective name bar, picked it up and carried it into overtime.
He assisted on a Ty Rattie goal 18 seconds into the period, scored on the power play at 2:28, and would assist on Jesse Puljujarvi’s goal (a delicious Ryan Nugent-Hopkins feed) that tied the game. Darnell Nurse wired home an unassisted wrist shot in OT to complete the comeback.
“We got desperate,” McDavid said. “It goes to show what we can do when we want to do things right. We can play with anyone. We came into a tough building and found a way to get two points, to come back on them.”
As the debate raged on at the morning skate, McLellan had firmly stated his belief that McDavid, not Matthews, was the best player in the game today.
“I rest my case,” he said post-game. “He’s our captain, he’s our leader, he’s — in my opinion — the best player on Earth right now. He just decided he was going to will us to a win. He got some help around him, which is a nice change. Other lines found a way to, maybe not score, but at least keep the momentum alive.”
The Jets fall to 3-2-1 and look at this as a blown game, plain and simple. But they took time to acknowledge McDavid’s evening, a night that Jets fan may not have overly enjoyed, but surely respected.
“I mean, he’s the best player in the world, you know he’s going to make plays,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey.
“He causes the pull, the gravitational pull on the ice,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Everybody gets moving toward him and it opens up other players. That speed is beyond what you see from any other player in the league.”
It is something special indeed.
Where would the Oilers be without him?