Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saturday storylines: The McDavid Factor

Welcome to the first Saturday of the NHL season. And welcome to a new weekly feature. Every Saturday this year we’ll take a look around the league at some of the best games, storylines and head-to-head matchups that we’ll be seeing that night. We’ll also dip into the archives for a quick history lesson, and make a prediction that (spoiler alert) will end up being wrong. It should be fun.

Hockey is a team game, fans are constantly reminded. The word is basically inscribed directly into the brains of anyone who sets foot in an NHL arena. You win as a team and lose as a team. There’s no “I” in team. And without question, no single player can ever be bigger than the team.

Great. With that out of the way, let’s spend the next few paragraphs talking about Connor McDavid.

Last year, he won the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy as a 20-year-old. This year, virtually everyone is picking him to do it again. These days he’s in every ad, on every poster and just went first overall in your office hockey pool. The hype train hasn’t just left the station; it’s sprouted wings, gone airborne and is skywriting “MCDAVID IS AWESOME” over every rink in the league.

And after watching him in Wednesday’s season opener, it feels like we may have undersold the kid.

It took him about 30 seconds to get his first breakaway of the season. He had his first goal by the 11-minute mark, coming on a play in which he demonstrated a Wayne Gretzky-like ability to drift into an empty spot where the puck was about to arrive. And then midway through the third period, with the game on the line, came this:

I mean, what do you do against a player who can do that? Really, what are your options? Tackle him? Leave two guys back in your own zone at all times, just in case? Pray? Players aren’t supposed to get faster with the puck on their stick, but McDavid has shown up and broken the NHL’s physics engine. What’s the plan here?

The Flames sure don’t know. They got the schedule at the same time we all did. They spent the last few months knowing that their first game of the regular season would come against McDavid and the Oilers. They have a new goaltender and arguably the best blue line in the league, and they know that the path out of the Pacific probably goes through Edmonton.

They had all the time in the world to come up with a game plan to stop, or at least contain, Connor McDavid.

And we saw what happened.

Tonight’s opponent is the Canucks, finally making their season debut. Like the Flames, they’ve also had plenty of time to think about how to stop McDavid. Unlike the Flames, they do not have one of the best blue lines in the league, although they will have last change. Maybe that helps. It probably won’t.

This season is shaping up to be the Connor McDavid show. Oilers fans are already delirious. The rest of us might as well enjoy the ride… at least on the nights that it’s not our team’s turn to step into the thresher.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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