EDMONTON — During that 12-2 run, when the Edmonton Oilers were barreling down the stretch in search of home-ice advantage in Round 1 of the coming playoffs, Connor McDavid delivered two points a night.
OK, the actual number was 1.8 points per night. But 25 points over the last 14 crucial games was proof that when the Oilers needed an offensive leader, McDavid could produce.
So, here we are again.
The Oilers are four games deep against San Jose and still in pretty good shape with two of the final three games scheduled for Rogers Place. But the well is dry, with just five Oilers goals in the series.
It’s time for McDavid, who has just two points in this series, to become that productive, puck-carting player who drew the most penalties in the NHL this season. He has been bested by the Sharks’ defensive scheme, so he’s not carrying the puck at warp speed and creating offence. As such, he isn’t drawing penalties.
Can Todd McLellan coach him out of this?
“He’s got to experience his way out of it,” said the Oilers head coach. “His teammates and his coaching staff have to help him.”
Ah, his teammates.
A big part of McDavid’s problems is his linemates, or perhaps it’s the other way around. But Leon Draisaitl (zero points) has been a ghost in this series, and Pat Maroon (zero points) hasn’t been any better.
Game 5 goes Thursday night in Edmonton. It is time for McDavid to become the best player in this series, as he was in perhaps three-quarters of the Oilers games this season.
“Eventually your big guys are going to have to step up at some point and win you a hockey game,” said Lucic, moments after chewing out a reporter who inadvertently stepped on the Oilers logo on a rug in the middle of the visitor’s dressing-room floor. “We’ve had that from (goaltender Cam Talbot) in the first three games, and (Zack) Kassian steps up with two game-winners. But we need a little more from everybody.”
In the preceding three hours, Lucic had a front-row seat to the awakening of the Sharks. Their best players — Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns — had buried the Oilers in goals, chasing Talbot and evening the series with a converted touchdown in Game 4.
You didn’t have to ask Lucic what has to happen next.
He knows. They all do.
“Their big boys stepped and had a game. It’s up to us, especially our key guys, to step up and have a game for our hockey club,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve stepped up yet in this series. We get an opportunity to do that in Game 5 at home.”
He was looking in the mirror. He was also talking about the guy who took over his left-wing spot next to McDavid — Maroon — and every other top-six player.
Maroon, a 30-goal man next to McDavid this season, hasn’t played close to that level in the post-season. The Nugent-Hopkins-Lucic-Eberle line has played against San Jose’s No. 1 line throughout, but that doesn’t absolve them from production. They haven’t scored at even strength, and have one, Game 1 power-play goal between them.
But it starts and ends with McDavid, who has been handled efficiently by the Sharks thus far. He is the head of this snake, and so far, the Sharks have severely limited McDavid’s chances through a combination of neutral-zone dominance and the defensive pairing of Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
McLellan, a veteran of multiple playoff runs from his days coaching the Sharks, has become as much a psychologist as a tactician now that he’s guiding Edmonton through its first playoff voyage since 2006.
He can do his best Tony Robbins impression, and expose his players to more video than Netflix. But until these players actually live the playoffs, well, talk is cheap, and he knows it.
“We’re learning as we go,” McLellan admitted. “Our top scorers haven’t experienced this level of hockey. Look at Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Burns and Martin, those are some pretty experienced guys who have lived through these types of games. They knew where they had to take it. Our guys have now experienced it.”
It’s still Edmonton’s series to win. A best-of-three with home-ice advantage. Younger legs. The singular best player in the series.
But if those advantages don’t become advantages, then they’re nothing more than a sentence in a column.
It’s time, Connor.
The rest will follow.