ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid haven’t played together much during the first six games of the IIHF World Championship, but when they have, the results have been magical.
During Canada’s 4-0 shutout win over France on Monday, McDavid and Hall combined with a nice give-and-go play to set up Mark Stone for the first goal of the game—which also proved to be the game-winner.
“We haven’t really been on a line together, but anytime we get out there together, we seem to be able to do some good stuff,” said McDavid after practice on Sunday. “It obviously helps to be able to play on a club team with a guy that you can come over and have a little bit of experience playing with, so I think we’ve used that to our advantage here.”
Coach Bill Peters started the preliminary round playing Hall on Canada’s top line with Derick Brassard and Corey Perry, with McDavid centering Brad Marchand and Matt Duchene. The Oilers’ dynamic duo only got together for spot duty on the power play and in rare situations where the Canadians needed to crank up the offense, but Hall and McDavid are starting to see more time together as the tournament progresses.
Canada went into the final 20 minutes of last Thursday’s game against Germany locked in a 2-2 tie—the only time in the tournament to date that the team hadn’t held a comfortable lead heading into the final frame. After McDavid was whistled for an early interference penalty at the 52 second mark, Peters left him on the ice with Hall and Duchene when the Canadians got back to full strength—and got instant results.
Hall’s fifth goal of the tournament put Canada up 3-2 and clinched the win in the game.
When Canada won gold at the 2015 World Championship, Hall played on the team’s top line with Jordan Eberle and Sidney Crosby. He was one of the tournament’s offensive leaders, tallying 12 points and a team-leading seven goals in 10 games.
This year, his scoring pace is even higher, as he has six goals in Canada’s first six games. “I’m trying to find some areas on the ice that maybe I don’t go to in the NHL,” he explained. “So far it’s been working out.”
Canadian starting goaltender Cam Talbot has learned a lot about Hall’s shot from a year of facing him in practice with the Oilers.
“He’s got kind of a sneaky release,” said Talbot. “I see it all the time in practice but his speed is so deceptive on the outside that he can get around that guy. You can’t play him too far out, because if he gets a step on the defenceman he can beat you to the back post as well.
“It’s kind of give-and-take. If you give up the shot, then he’s going to take it. If you give up the back door, maybe he’ll beat you to it. Hallsy’s a special player and has a lot of speed and a great shot, so he’s tough to defend.”
Unbeaten Canada plays 6-0 Finland on Tuesday to determine first place in the final Group B standings, then the World Championship medal round begins on Thursday. Coach Peters is starting to tinker with his lineup to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, which means more responsibility for McDavid.
“We want to boost certain guys’ minutes to make sure that when we want to lean on them here down the stretch, that they’ve played enough hockey and are in game shape,” said Peters after the win over France.
“I thought (McDavid) was stronger as the game went on—he played real well in the third period.”
Peters likes the way Hall, Duchene and McDavid work together. “There’s chemistry both ways,” he said. “There’s chemistry between Hallsy and Dutchy, then there’s chemistry between Hallsy and Connor. Dangerous line—we shuffled a couple of different things to have a look moving into not only tomorrow (against Finland) but into the quarterfinal.”
“I’ve had a couple of goals assisted by Connor that were all-world plays and it’s fun to be out there with him,” summed up Hall of the opportunities that he and McDavid have generated so far during their time in Russia.
Oilers fans have every reason to hope that chemistry will continue to evolve at Rogers Place next season.