EDMONTON — They were 50 minutes into their sixth fruitless, frustrating game against Montreal. The Canadiens, it seemed, had the secret sauce.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had zero goals between them, and the Habs were 10 minutes away from a 5-1 record against Edmonton. Montreal was mucking and grinding, obstructing and interfering, adhering to that old offensive lineman’s credo that the refs aren’t going to call holding on EVERY play, so why not get away with what you could get away with?
“That’s a team that’s had our number, for whatever reason this year,” admitted Connor McDavid, who never stopped coming at the Montreal defenders, no matter how many times he ended up on the seat of his pants — both by legal and semi-legal means.
The young superstar has made the step that Sidney Crosby once made, opting now to fight back rather than complain. He keeps coming — he doesn’t go away. Hook him once? You’ll have to do it again, and again, until eventually he walks through those sticks and finds a game-winner, the way he did Monday night.
“It’s completely work-based against this team,” McDavid said after a playoff-style affair, broken open late by Edmonton for a 4-1 win. “They do a great job of clogging up the middle, they have big rangy D-men who break the puck out well and are hard to forecheck. You just have to outwork them. You look at the teams that have had success against them, and that seems to be the recipe.”
At one point Draisaitl fed Josh Anderson the ol’ Sherwood sandwich, making the Canadiens forward skate through his lumber if he was going to lay the body on Draisaitl one more time. Draisaitl took a penalty that the Oilers happily killed, a sign of a superstar who is ready and willing to push back when necessary.
But where were we?
Ah yes, 10 minutes to play, 1-0 Habs, and reliever Jake Allen standing on his head. Edmonton was the better team, but the better team doesn’t always win games like these. (Ask the Maple Leafs, who lost a point to Braden Holtby the night before in Vancouver.)
On a spectacular offensive sequence featuring a couple of hair-raising Allen saves, McDavid found Ethan Bear pinching from the blue-line and he rifled home the goal that broke the seal behind Allen with 9:11 to play. Then, less than five minutes later, came the goal that would have lifted the roof off of Rogers Place, had there been 18,500 fans here.
It was a reward for an Oilers team that did not get frustrated and start to cheat for their chances, the way they always have. Through six games of frustration, Edmonton defended their way to their eighth straight win on home ice, giving Montreal so little to dine on that when McDavid grabbed a puck at his own blue-line it was suddenly a game-over moment.
“We held the line, didn’t let them get in. We came back as five,” described Bear, who combined with Jesse Puljujarvi to deny the Habs entry. “There was a turnover, and Connor just does his thing. That’s what makes us dangerous.”
McDavid grabbed a puck against the flow of the play, turned on his substantial jets, and went straight at the veteran pairing of Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson. He split them, roofed a shot pat Allen, and the Habs’ bubble was burst.
“I’m never really afraid to take on two defenders. It can get me into trouble sometimes,” chuckled McDavid. “I was able to get it in good stride, and the D were kinda scrambling back. I just tried to make a play.”
It was the kind of goal that begged for a full house. A building with an equal split of Montreal and Oilers jerseys was robbed on a McDavid goal of such pedigree, witnessed instead by some hockey people, a few media and 18,000 empty chairs.
“There are some nights when you can definitely tell there’s no fans in the building, and tonight was one of them,.” McDavid said, another three-point game under his belt. “The game was so intense, there was so much energy inside the building — even without fans — I can only imagine what it would have been like with some crazy Edmontonians getting up for us. We miss them a lot.”
Centre Jujhar Khaira was knocked out of this one with a concussion in the first period, forcing head coach Dave Tippett to use his two superstars “a ton.” That meant an even 27 minutes for McDavid, and 26:22 for Draisaitl.
But those two aren’t just the best players on this team, they’re the spiritual leaders as well. They didn’t stop coming, and neither did anyone else.
In the end, that’s what it took to beat a Montreal team that has the secret sauce against Edmonton.
Or HAD the sauce.
We’ll see what happens Wednesday.