McDavid’s goal-scoring slump doesn’t concern Oilers teammates

Oilers' star Connor McDavid spoke to the media about his recent struggles putting the puck in the net, and jokingly mentioned he is looking to put up some big assist numbers this season.

EDMONTON — With 21 points in his last nine games, Connor McDavid is in a slump. A goal-scoring slump.

The Oilers captain takes a nine-game goal scoring drought into tonight’s home game (7:30 p.m. MT on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+) against the Los Angeles Kings, one game short of his career high.

“I’ve decided I’m just going to see how many assists I can get,” he said, jokingly, after Monday’s morning skate. “That’s the focus: I’m not going to shoot the puck anymore. I’m not going to score any more goals.”

He looked around the scrum, to make sure everyone knew he was just having a little fun.

“Of course I want to score, I want to produce. I want to help this team any way that I can, and scoring goals is part of that.”

The great Wayne Gretzky had 11 stretches of nine games or more without scoring a goal — but only one as an Oiler and as a sub-30-year-old player.

During that nine-game goal drought with Edmonton, Gretzky had 24 assists. During this arid nine-game patch for McDavid, he still leads the entire NHL in points with 21. McDavid leads the league with 68 assists — only 13 players have more than 68 points.

“He’s got the puck on his stick more than anybody in the league,” teammate Zach Hyman said. “That’s why he’s got the most assists — because he’s got the puck all the time.”

While Toronto’s Auston Matthews has led the league with 11 goals and 16 points (in eight Leafs games) during since the beginning of McDavid’s goalless skein, McDavid has 30 per cent more points even than the hottest scorer in hockey. Yet, the Oilers are slumping (4-4-1), and Toronto is on a tear (7-1).

“I can score goals, but I like getting getting assists too,” McDavid said. “I like setting teammates up. I like making those plays — and I still feel like I’m creating lots and getting looks. They’re just not going in for me.”

Last season began with a challenge from teammate Leon Draisaitl to go out and score 50 goals, something McDavid had never done. Instead he scored a career-high 64 goals, added a career-high 89 assists and came away with his best season ever: 153 points, with the Art Ross, the Hart, the Rocket Richard and the Ted Lindsay awards to go with it.

This season McDavid is on a pace to set a new high in assists, but is trending towards just 31 goals. So let’s compare the two seasons:

In 2022-23 he took 352 shots on goal, or 4.29 per game. This season he’s on pace for just 266 and 3.34 per game.

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Last season his shooting percentage was an insanely high 18.2 per cent. This season it’s at 11.9 per cent. For context, points leader Nikita Kucherov (15.6 per cent), Nathan MacKinnon (12.1 per cent), David Pastrnak (12.2 per cent) and Matthews (21.5 per cent) are your comparables.

So, what’s the biggest difference between last year’s 64-goal centreman and this year’s player?

“That’s a good question,” said McDavid. “You know, passing away some opportunities, I guess every now and then. I think back to some 2-on-1s, passing away. Good looks in the slot, passing away. So maybe there’s a little bit of that.

“But, scoring goals a little bit lucky too. I mean, sometimes it’s going in, sometimes it’s not.”

Meanwhile, McDavid’s primary winger (Hyman) has been the beneficiary, with 37 goals — fourth highest in the NHL.

What does Hyman see?

“I think he makes his read every time he’s out there. Whether it’s shooting or passing, he’s not trying to set records for himself. He’s just trying to win hockey games and make the best possible read,” Hyman said. “He’s an unbelievable player, both goal scorer playmaker. He’s a pass-first 60-goal scorer.

“We always talk about Leon, but (McDavid) scored 60 as a pass-first guy. It’s pretty incredible.”

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Edmonton hasn’t played well in 10 games, putting together a 4-5-1 mark. With Los Angles having recently pulled into a tie with the Oilers in the Pacific Division standings, this game presents a fertile time for the Oilers ‘A’ game to make a return.

“It’s a great test for us, to just kind of stick with it,” McDavid said. “Not get frustrated by anything. We know this team well; we know what it takes to beat them. It’s a patient game, understanding that they don’t give up much. They want you to kind of beat yourself, in terms of turning the puck over with their with their trap in the middle.”

“Right now we’re on a stretch where we’ve given up a few in a row and we’ve got to tighten things up.”

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