EDMONTON — Like Pavarotti at the Met, or Mick Jagger at Wembley, a Saturday night versus the Montreal Canadiens is where you want to tell the grandkids you saw Connor McDavid play.
Because, in a marathon 82-game season that winds forgettably through some Tuesdays in Florida and Thursdays in Arizona, these are the games that McDavid most likes to play.
“Oh yeah,” he ensures you, “they’re special.”
“As an Ontario kid, I grew up watching the seven o’clock game. So it’s fun to get the seven o’clock game,” he said after a spectacular, two-goal, four-point performance on Hockey Night in Canada. “Especially playing against those teams — whether it’s the Habs or the Leafs. It’s a little bit like playing on the road sometimes. But it’s emotion, and that’s what you want.”
McDavid iced a 5-3 victory with a breakaway goal with 5:20 to play, a moment that has become as dependable in these parts as Alberta Premier Danielle Smith walking back some campaign promise.
Back in the day, when Wayne Gretzky used to break in alone, you would watch to see if he scored. Today, when McDavid blazes down on a ‘tendy, it’s not about “if” he’ll score. But rather, “how?”
The end result has become a foregone conclusion, the process a hazy mix of blurry gloves and Ginsu knife puckhandling. On this night, Leon Draisaitl relieved Josh Anderson of a puck at the Canadiens’ offensive blue line, an action that sent McDavid into warp speed.
Draisaitl calmly moved the puck north to his captain and then sat back and watched — like all of us — as the fastest feet in the NHL created oodles of space, and hockey’s best pair of hands went forehand-backhand, backhand-forehand before roofing a shot under the bar and behind poor Montreal goalie Jake Allen.
“Early in my career, it was something that was an area of weakness. Something that I needed to improve,” McDavid said of his breakaways. “As my career’s gone on, I think I’ve gotten better and better. I’m just comfortable being in that spot, and I just keep it a little more simple.”
Simple, yeah. Looks like anyone can do it, eh?
Does he have a plan? Does a move come to him as he bears down on the goalie?
Does he dream up the next deke while driving to the rink that afternoon? Does he have the great Mario Lemieux on speed dial?
“Yeah, I wish I could take you through the process,” he smiled, “but it’s a lot of instinct. It’s a lot of kind of just feeling it. You’re coming in on different angles all the time, just trying to make the goalie move.”
McDavid extended his lead atop the NHL scoring race with his 47th point, while his 21 goals trail only Dallas’ Jason Robertson (22).
This Oilers win was built on the power play, when Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson took a five-minute major for cross-checking Zach Hyman in the head in the second period. Around that major, the Habs took two minors, and Edmonton buried a pair of five-on-three goals.
Draisaitl closed with a four-point night (1-3-4) while Ryan Nugent-Hopkin scored his 11th, matching his goals output from the entire 2021-22 season in just the 25th game of the season.
The Oilers won for the fourth time in the past five games, and Stuart Skinner helped nail things down in the third period, as he positions himself as the team’s No. 1 ahead of struggling Jack Campbell.
“I think that we’re getting more and more confident as the games go on,” Skinner said. “Any (adversity) that gets pushed over our way, we’ve handled it pretty well. The last few games we’ve definitely had to dial it in and you can see that. I mean, winning four out of five is huge.”
“I was proud of our of guys,” added head coach Jay Woodcroft. “I didn’t really like our first (period), there were parts of our second that I liked — we scored some important goals — but I thought our best, most mature and professional period was our third when we were able to lock them down.”