By MARTY KLINKENBERG
Saturday, October 20, 2018
G EDMONTON -- Connor McDavid set his first NHL record this week and just as quickly dismissed it.
Edmonton's 21-year-old captain became the first player in history to have a hand in his team's first nine goals in a season.
The individual accomplishment speaks to a troubling concern about the Oilers: His teammates have not been doing their share.
"I'm not overly proud of it and I don't think it's a statistic we should be proud of, either," he said after an overtime victory in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
McDavid pretty much beat the Jets on his own. On Thursday, in his team's belated home opener against the Boston Bruins, he set up two of Edmonton's three goals, including the overtime winner.
In the third period, he banked a remarkable pass off the boards behind the net to set up a shortlived go-ahead goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"I saw it coming off the wall and started licking my chops," Nugent-Hopkins said. "All I had to do was put it in. It was an unbelievable play by Connor."
In overtime, McDavid intercepted a long pass, slipped by two Bruins defenders and snapped the puck to Leon Draisaitl, who netted a one-timer from the left side. It took all of 37 seconds in the extra period for the Oilers to win their third straight game, and second in overtime.
Edmonton coach Todd McLellan, who earlier in the week called McDavid the best hockey player on earth, suggested that he suckered the Bruins into attempting the pass that he then converted into the winning goal.
"I think he was baiting them," McLellan said. "He knows his speed and the distance he has to cover."
The Oilers returned to Rogers Place after an unusual 20,000kilometre road trip unsure of what the season would bring, beyond a bundle of points for the league's two-time scoring champion.
They began the year with losses to the New Jersey Devils in Sweden and to the Bruins in Boston, before beating the New York Rangers and Jets.
McDavid scored twice and had two assists in Tuesday in the 5-4 win over the Jets, the NHL's toughest team to beat at home.
The overtime winner by Darnell Nurse was the only goal in the first four games McDavid didn't play a role in.
Through five games, he has been part of 11 of his team's 13 goals. With four goals and seven assists he is off to another roaring start, even if he has been overshadowed by Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs. Fans in the Centre of the Hockey Universe say Matthews is better, but that opinion is not widely held outside of Toronto.
"Connor McDavid has put up back to back 100-point seasons," Mark Scheifele, the Winnipeg centre, said earlier this week. "He has done a lot that Matthews hasn't.
"Auston is a star and is going to get better, but he is not at McDavid's level yet."
McDavid has begun the year skating through and around opponents as if they weren't there.
He is LeBron James with a hockey stick. Defenders know he is coming, but they are unable to stop him.
The pass off the boards on Nugent-Hopkins' power-play goal was a new trick. When you think you have seen everything, McDavid shows you something else.
The Oilers have never played a home opener at such a late date and looked out of sorts at the beginning. They had only one shot in the first 11 minutes and were outshot 12-5 in the first period.
They could have easily been down by a goal or two if not for excellent play by Cam Talbot.
"Without Cam's performance in the first period, we wouldn't have had a chance," McLellan said. Talbot ended up with 27 saves in his fifth straight start.
The good news for the Oilers is that some of McDavid's teammates are slowly starting to show up. After David Krejci gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the second, Kailer Yamamoto responded with his first NHL goal for the Oilers two minutes later. He took a nice pass from Adam Larsson and spun away from a defender before beating Jaroslav Halak over the glove.
"Words can't describe how it feels," Yamamoto, 20, said. He is a 153-pound winger of Japanese and Hawaiian heritage.
Nugent-Hopkins's goal was his second of the year. He is finally settling in on McDavid's left flank and now has six points on the season.
Draisaitl's goal was his second so far and the Oilers also got assists from Kris Russell and Oscar Klefbom. It is not a damburst by any means, but it is the sign of life beyond McDavid that Edmonton has been looking for.
"The Bruins are a really good team," Larsson said. "They bring a lot to the table, but for the most part I thought we did a good job against them. We are a hungry team and these wins are very important for us at the start of the season. We are off to a good one."
So the Oilers survived an early blitz by Boston and escaped with a win before a sell-out crowd.
They are 3-2; at this point last year they had only one win. Despite McDavid's wizardy, they missed the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.
They are looking better, but have a long way to go. Five of their next six games are against teams that made the playoffs: the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Minnesota Wild and two against the Nashville Predators.
Dating back to last season, McDavid has scored 30 goals in his last 35 games. He is on the ice more than any NHL forward at nearly 24 minutes a game. He's consistently winning faceoffs now, the weakest part of his game in his first three seasons. He can still carry the team. He still surprises. All he needs is a little help from his friends.
Edmonton's Oscar Klefbom, left, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl celebrate the Oilers' overtime win against the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS