It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to deduce that when the two best players on any team go quiet, the rest of the line-up has to find a way to make some noise to compensate. That’s especially true for the Edmonton Oilers, whose two best players, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, are arguably the top two players in the NHL, sitting one-two atop the scoring race.
The Montreal Canadiens certainly have that figured out through five games against the Oilers this season as they once again put the handcuffs on McDavid and Draisaitl on the way to a 3-2 overtime win Monday. McDavid was held off the scoresheet altogether and Draisaitl was limited to a lone assist as the Oilers dropped their fourth game in those five meetings with the Habs.
The Oilers have scored all of seven goals in those five games with Montreal and McDavid and Draisaitl don’t have even one of those goals between them. They’ve managed just two assists each in the five games and the rest of coach Dave Tippett’s line-up hasn’t yet found a way to compensate. They’ve lost 3-2 in OT, 4-0, 3-1 and 5-1 while winning 3-0.
The problem isn’t the two guys at the top of the Art Ross Trophy race who get leaned on more heavily than any other twosome in the league and produce far more often than not. It’s with the rest of a roster that hasn’t found a way to get much of anything done against the Canadiens without them.
NEED SOME HELP
It looked like that might change last night as Devin Shore and Darnell Nurse staked the Oilers to a 2-0 lead, but no. Third-period goals by Josh Anderson and Tomas Tatar and the OT winner by Eric Staal, in his first game in Canadiens’ silks, sent the Oilers packing for back-to-back games against the Senators in Ottawa with a single loser point.
“They’re getting just as many chances as other games. They just haven’t capitalized,” Tippett said of McDavid and Draisaitl. Asked whether the Canadiens are doing anything special to shut down his top duo, Tippett added: “That’s the way it’s going to be. That’s tight-checking hockey.
“It’s the way good games are. The other team’s not just going to give you space so you can do stuff. You’ve got to earn that space and we want to make other teams earn that space. It turns into a tight hockey game. This is the kind of game you’re going to see night in and night out. You better be ready for it because that’s what playoff hockey is.
McDavid managed just one shot on goal and Draisaitl had three as Carey Price faced just 23 shots – not nearly enough of them of the Grade A variety. Shore’s goal came in tight on some nice work by Jujhar Khaira to get the puck to the front of the net. On the 2-0 goal, Nurse pounded a high slapper past Price on the PP.
“Every time we play them, they check well, they compete,” said Nurse, who gave up the puck on Montreal’s 2-2 goal. “You look at their team. They just come out and work. I don’t think there’s any real secret to it or their system. They come out and work and play hard. They played well. They have a real solid game.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are going to be nights like this when McDavid and Draisaitl don’t get anything done. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens – that true for every team in the league. The fact is Tippett’s line-up has managed to make up for that on many nights, thanks in large part to Nurse and Tyson Barrie on the back end and some decent secondary scoring from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi. They just haven’t had enough of it against the Canadiens.
The good news is the Senators, next up Wednesday and Thursday, haven’t been nearly as stifling. The Oilers lead the season series with the Sens 7-0 and have scored 36 goals in those seven wins. The bad news, at least as things stand now, is the Oilers face the Canadiens four more times, including in their final two games of the season (as of now).
There’s some sorting out to do.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Bigger Than the Game
- At Random: Already Gone
- Just What the Doctor Ordered
- Tim Peel: The First Rule
- That Birthday Boy
- Barrie a Smart Bet