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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

McDavid Set to Shatter Career Best

Connor McDavid’s goal had the hockey world and social media buzzing last night. I’m a firm believer that most fans love being entertained and even when an opposing player makes an incredible play, all the fans enjoy it. How can you not? Sports are supposed to be fun, and sometimes even an escape from the struggles or ennui of our daily routine.

McDavid’s third period goal last night in Toronto was one of those moments.

Listen to the reaction from the home crowd. The gasp when he cuts back on Morgan Reilly is very noticeable.

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Kevin Quinn had a fantastic call, “What a Move. What a play. What a goal!”

It capped off a dominant night by McDavid, and the Oilers. They were ready to play from the opening faceoff and controlled much of the game. Even when Toronto made it 4-3 late in the third, they were never able to take control of the game.

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said, “From the drop of the puck it was clear they were here for a reason. They played at a higher level than we did today, and at a higher level than any of the opponents we’ve played in quite some time.”

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The Leafs were 9-0-1 entering last night’s game, but Edmonton overwhelmed them for long stretches and to quote Dave Tippett forced the Maple Leafs to, “chase the game.”

McDavid was on another level last night. In the first period the Oilers outshot the Leafs 9-2 when he was on the ice. He finished the game with a goal and three assists. He had eight shots on net in 24:45 of icetime. Dave Tippett wasn’t pulling in the reigns on his superstar last night. He kept putting him out there as it was obvious McDavid was having one of his “special” games. What hasn’t been talked about much is how he is poised to shatter one of his career point totals. More on that in a bit.

McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had, by their standards, a slow December. It wasn’t going to last. They are simply too good. The underlying positive note for the Oilers during their December swoon, was that their depth forwards were producing. Not at a let’s-plan-the-parade level, but they were chipping in, and so far in 2020 the depth forwards have kept producing while McDavid and Draisaitl are back to playing dominant hockey. The bonus is they are doing it on separate lines, and I don’t think Tippett plans on reuniting them full time in the near future. He might put them together late in a game when they trail by a goal, but he likes the look of his top-two lines right now.

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Edmonton has scored 19 goals over their past four games, after scoring only 29 in their first 12 games of December. Of those 19 goals, McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for five. Eleven different players have a goal and 18 players have at least one point. Last night, for the first time since December, 1985, all six D-men had a point in the same game. Of course, that type of defensive production won’t continue, but every player suddenly has some offensive confidence, and more importantly the Oilers have rebounded from a tough stretch in December.

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SETTING PERSONAL HIGHS…

Without much fanfare McDavid, and Draisaitl, are poised to shatter their powerplay production. McDavid picked up his 30th powerplay point last night, an assist on Draisaitl’s eighth PP goal of the year. It was Draisaitl’s 28th point on the powerplay. At the start of the season I felt the Oilers powerplay could run at a 25% clip. Continuity matters, and when you have the skillset of McDavid and Draisaitl that makes it even better. Washington, San Jose and Pittsburgh had dominant powerplays for years, because they had elite skill, but they also had the same players running the powerplay year after year.

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Everything on the Oilers powerplay flows through McDavid and Draisaitl. It has in the past as well, but they started this season with the same five-man unit. James Neal scored his way onto the first unit, when Alex Chiasson got injured, and now those two split duties.

In 2017 the Oilers PP was 22.9%. They scored 56 goals on 245 opportunities. McDavid produced 3-24-27. Leon Draisaitl had 10-17-27, while Milan Lucic had a career-best year on the man advantage scoring 12-13-25. Mark Letestu chipped in with 11 goals.

The PP struggled mightily in 2018 with only 31 goals on 210 chances (14.8%). McDavid only had 5-15-20, while Draisaitl produced 6-5-11. The powerplay was too static and the young stars had to learn they had to outwork the penalty kill.

Last year the PP rebounded to 21.2%, scoring 47 goals on 222 powerplays. McDavid had a career-high 9-24-33, while Draisaitl chipped in with 16-13-29. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 8-18-26 and Alex Chiasson was fourth on the team with 8-7-15.

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This year the PP has dominated. It is a league-best 29.2%, and they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. They have 40 goals on 137 man advantages. The franchise record for PP success in a season was 29.3% in 1982 when they scored 86 goals on 294 chances. Edmonton is on pace to have 249 powerplays, so they won’t touch the goal record, but they could push for the best PP%.

McDavid already has 30 points on the powerplay. Draisaitl has 28. Their career-bests are 33 and 29 respectively. They’ll likely surpass that before the end of January. James Neal has produced 12-5-17, while Oscar Klefbom has 2-13-15, Nugent-Hopkins has 4-10-14 and Alex Chiasson has 3-5-8. Neal and Chiasson have combined for 15 goals from their net-front spot that they rotate on.

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Only six players in Oilers history have had 40+ powerplay points in a season. Wayne Gretzky did it for eight consecutive seasons between 1981-1988. He produced, starting in 1981 to 1988: 53, 57, 54, 47, 44, 54, 46 and 49 points.

Paul Coffey had 41 in 1984.
Mark Messier had 47 in 1990.
Doug Weight scored 46 in 1996 and 40 in 2001.
Ales Hemsky and Chris Pronger each had 42 powerplay points in 2006.

McDavid is on pace for 54 powerplay points, while Draisaitl is on pace for 51. No player has had 50 points on the PP since 2007. Nikita Kucherov (48) and Steven Stamkos (40) were the only two with 40 PPP last season, and only three others — Phil Kessel (42 in 2018), Blake Wheeler (40 in 2018) and Nick Backstrom (44 in 2014) — have surpassed 40 in the past eight seasons.

McDavid’s goal last night deserves all the accolades it received. It was amazing. It illustrated how great his edge work is, how quickly he can accelerate out of a cross over, and how at certain moments on the ice, even really good skaters like Reilly, are still at a major disadvantage.

But what he and Draisaitl have done on the powerplay thus far should not be overlooked. It has been very impressive, and they make it look so easy that we might even overlook how good they’ve become on the man advantage.

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