“Obviously I know I’ve been pretty (expletive) lately. Sorry about my words, there…” — Leon Draisaitl, minus-25 in his past 16 games.
EDMONTON — There are various misconceptions that afflict all different types of hockey players, the most prevalent being the one about the superstar being left alone to do his thing offensively while everyone else should worry about defending.
As if being a leader means you only have to lead at one end of the ice. Or the hockey star, where teams combine for five goals a game, should be assessed the same as the basketball star, where they sometimes score 200 points in a game.
Leon Draisaitl looks at the National Hockey League scoring race and sees himself in second place, but he looks at the standings and sees his team losing more than it is winning. At age 24, he knows that winning is more fun than filling the net, and sometimes helping the team doesn’t always mean scoring.
Sometimes it means not getting scored on.
“I’ve always been very good at assessing my own game,” Draisaitl said. “I have no problem saying that I haven’t been playing to my capabilities. But those stretches happen. I’ve always come out of them as a better player and I’m positive it will happen this time, too.”
Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian — when they’ve all been together as a line — can carry a team offensively. But the fact that only one of them is a plus player — and that’s Kassian — tells you that points in the scoring race and points in the standings are definitely not the same thing.
“I can’t speak for them, I can only talk for myself, and obviously I know I’ve been pretty (expletive) lately. Sorry about my words, there…” said Draisaitl, who is enduring his first true slump as an offensive giant in the NHL. “Those stretches, they happen. Maybe it’s a little too long for myself but tomorrow is a new day and us as a line will go out, work hard, try our best and try and be a good line.”
It’s always touchy to criticize the game of a player who was the only 50-goal, 100-point player in the NHL last season, and has been one-two with McDavid atop the scoring race for much of this season.
But the reality is, it’s about winning, not who scores. It’s about the Stanley Cup, not the Art Ross Trophy.
Sure, Draisaitl and McDavid sit atop a top heavy Oilers roster that simply doesn’t have enough help underneath. But if that’s the roster they’re on, then for now, that’s the one they have to try to win with.
If it’s Draisaitl and McDavid who reap the rewards when they score three times and Edmonton wins, then they deserve some of the credit when they go minus-3, as Draisaitl has, in each of the past two games.
“He’s very aware of where he’s at. We’ve had a few good conversations over the past couple of days,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s had a couple of real good days of practice here, understanding where his game is at and where he can make improvements into the future. I expect him to play well tomorrow.”
The New York Rangers will walk into a New Year’s Eve game against an Oilers club that soiled itself in a 5-1 loss to Calgary on Dec. 27. They weren’t ready to play, they weren’t willing to win battles, and frankly, played like a team that was still on its Christmas break.
As for Draisaitl, who dutifully faced the media on Monday while team captain McDavid’s appearances get less and less frequent, he’s a young superstar learning what it means to be a leader.
It’s true what they say: To whom much is given, much is expected.
“All players go through adversity. This is some adversity that I think will do him very well as he moves on,” said Tippett, who has watched his team trail on a nightly basis, and sees the McDavid line cheating for offence as a response.
“(Draisaitl) is the epitome of (the Oilers chasing games),” Tippett explains. “We’re down 4-2? He’s going to do whatever he can to help us win. He thinks, by scoring, that helps us win. And you can’t blame him, because we’re down. But, as we’ve got chasing more and more, his game, he’s ended up chasing more than the team is chasing it.
“He’s well aware of where his game is at, and where we are as a team. I fully expect him to start turning the other way, and going upward, as of tomorrow.”
It appears that Draisaitl will get call-up Kailer Yamamoto on his wing against New York, as Tippett splits up his centremen in search of some balance.
Their mission: put the puck in the Rangers’ net, but not until you make sure it’s not ending up in your own.