EDMONTON — Leon Draisaitl was answering a question about how he and Connor McDavid work so well together. Because it’s not always the case that two superstars like, say, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, gel as linemates the way the Edmonton Oilers' pair has.
“We think the game at the same level. We look for each other,” Draisaitl said. “I know where and when he wants the puck. Every once in a while I’ll get that pass to him.”
Every once in a while.
After collecting a hat trick and five points in a 7-1 Oilers win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, Draisaitl sits second to McDavid in the NHL in assists with 28. Go back three seasons and he also ranks second in assists — behind McDavid again.
Go back four seasons and Draisaitl stands fifth, an elite setup man who can also score 50 goals for you.
So passing isn’t an “every once in a while" thing for a guy whose defensive work is going to put him in position to compete for a second straight Hart Trophy this season. As of this morning, Draisaitl was second in the league in scoring (31 points), and when you compare his defensive stats to the rest of the top 10 scorers, Draisaitl may rate out as the best of the bunch.
“He’s such a strong player,” began head coach Dave Tippett after what looked like perhaps the easiest night of the season for his team, with the young Senators just totally overmatched against two of the top players in the game. “He holds the puck, he uses his body so well. Forehand, backhand — it doesn’t seem to matter to him. In tight spots he has so much poise with the puck.
“He’s an elite player, and when you put the two of them together, it’s a pretty good combination.”
As a team the Oilers continue to put that three-game disaster against the Maple Leafs out of its misery, forging a three-game win streak with their sixth consecutive win over befuddled Ottawa this season.
It could have gone either way after that embarrassment against the Leafs. It appears to have gone north for Edmonton, not south.
“It’s easy to just keep going down that path,” Draisaitl said. “It’s hard to pull yourself right out of it, win an emotional game against Calgary, (winning all three) games we’ve played since the Toronto series. Not the prettiest hockey, not the prettiest games. But we won (all of the) games, and that’s huge.”
Wednesday’s game was pretty from one side — Edmonton’s — and butt ugly from the Senators’ viewpoint. The Senators barely competed for 40 minutes, and the Oilers' skill simply romped.
The Oilers are a horrible matchup for Ottawa, as the Senators’ 0-6 head-to-head mark would surmise. Ottawa has a young, weak defence corps that simply cannot handle the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl, and an inexperienced roster of forwards that are apt to surrender scoring chances.
The talk before the game was about how Tippett would employ McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line, and what it meant for the Oilers forward units. Well, against a team like Ottawa, it didn’t matter what lines 2, 3, and 4 did for Edmonton — offensively, anyhow.
The two superstars were simply more than Ottawa could handle, as McDavid had 1-2-3 on a night where he and his German pal combined for four goals and eight points. McDavid assisted on two of Draisaitl’s three goals.
On this night, Draisaitl was lead dog on the Oilers sled.
“We get along on the ice, we get along off the ice,” he said of himself and McDavid. “It’s a healthy competition between both of us — we both want to be the best. It’s hard to be the best with him on your team, I can tell you that.”
Nights like this one, they come and go. What these two are really about, as they enter their mid-20s, is providing for a team that isn’t just an offensive sideshow.
The individual awards, they’ve each had more than their share. They want to win, and they want to win together.
“We’ve been through a lot here and known each other for a long time,” Draisaitl said. “Lots of ups and down, and you kind of grow together. Starting really young together, both of us just 18 years old, you build that friendship. You go through things that are fun, and things that are not so much fun, and you have to learn.”
They’ve leaned that losing is no fun.
They look ready to make a change in that department.