Oilers’ McDavid bolsters case for title of NHL’s best player

Connor McDavid scored four goals and added an assist to power the Edmonton Oilers to the win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After two goals, the guys in the stands wearing their favourite hats were quietly stashing them in their wives’ purses.

After three goals, you’d think all those years spent on Sidney Crosby’s flank would have taught Chris Kunitz to stay away from a superstar having one of those nights. But Kunitz flew a little close to the flame, and the next thing he knew the red light was on, and Connor McDavid’s arms were in the air.

Four goals.

“You kick one in the net for him,” Kunitz said, a wry smile on his lips. “I guess you score one of his goals, it’ll be a good story to tell one day.”

McDavid had an all-world night Monday, scoring four goals and adding an assist in a 6-2 victory over a decidedly loose Tampa Bay Lightning club. They didn’t become the top team in the National Hockey League playing like this, but McDavid will — one day — be the undisputed best player in the world if he does.

“He’s the best, or one of the best with Crosby, in the world,” said Tampa’s Tyler Johnson.

“He’s one of the top players in the league, blessed with the speed and the skill and everything you want in a hockey player,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s got it and he was on tonight. He’s fun to watch.”

McDavid entered the game in a tie for 13th place in league scoring. He walked out of Rogers Place in a tie for third, with 21 goals and 61 points.

Still, as you talk to opponents across the league, the mantle of “Best Player in the World” that comes up in reference to McDavid is almost always qualified with Sid’s name.

Fastest player in the league? Sure.

Best player in the league? Well, let’s start counting rings….

Kunitz spent nine seasons with Crosby, much of that time affixed to Sid’s left wing. On Monday, Kunitz went back to the future.

“Their competitiveness. They want to go through guys,” he said, when asked what separates that pair from everyone else. “They want to be the best every single time they step on the ice. They’re driven by more than just wins and points. They’re driven by how they can change the game, or maybe it’s the individual status of trying to be the best that’s ever played the game.”

Kunitz watched McDavid dominate his Lightning on Monday, the way he used to watch Crosby take apart opponents as a younger man. Crosby can still dominate a game, to be sure. But not at the speed that McDavid did Monday, putting every Tampa player on his heels every time he wound it up.

McDavid was faster, more aggressive, luckier and more productive than any man on skates Monday — in Edmonton or across the NHL. And his second goal? How the hell did that go in?

It’s a pedigree Kunitz has witnessed before.

“They don’t have a fear button. They don’t go wide on guys — they take it right through the middle. They enjoy the contact, almost,” he marveled. “You just want to get them the puck as quick as you can. You just give it to him with time to skate with it.”

For one night, at least, an Oilers team we all thought would be competing for a Pacific Division title this season laced ‘em up and smoked a very strong Lighting club. They’ve beaten Vegas twice as well, but the 13-point gap between the Oilers and a wild-card spot prior to the game belied what this team has been doing with most of the rest of its 2017-18 campaign.

Both of Edmonton’s penalty kill and power play are impossibly ranked 31st in the NHL, an absolute travesty when you look at the people on the first PP unit. But Leon Draisaitl scored only his second power-play goal of the season Monday, and the kind of goaltending Cam Talbot gave his club… Well, it just hasn’t been this good often enough this season.

For one night at least though, the leader led, the followers followed, and even a team as good as Tampa Bay couldn’t handle the parade.

“It seems like he is from another planet,” Draisaitl said of his captain. “It is not fair, really.”

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