On a night Connor McDavid marked his 400th game in the NHL with a goal and two assists as the Edmonton Oilers crushed the already remote playoff hopes of the Calgary Flames in a 4-1 win, it’s a surprise to nobody paying attention that he downplayed the milestone, calling it “just another step in the road.”
What we’ve known about McDavid since he played his first game with the Oilers as a teenager — he was held scoreless in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 8, 2015 — 400 games and 556 points ago, is he’s far more comfortable letting other people talk about what he’s accomplished and what comes next for him.
So, we do. What about having two points more than Sidney Crosby after 400 games, eh? What about leading the scoring race by 16 points today, meaning McDavid could sit out the last seven games and still win another Art Ross Trophy? With 87 points, can McDavid, who has 23 points in his last 10 games, reach 100 points in a 56-game season? Whattaya say, Connor? Whattaya say? On and on we go. It’s what we do, not what he does.
Top of mind for McDavid after a fast start, a so-so second period and a couple of empty-netters to snuff the Flames, was the result and how it was achieved after a 3-1 loss to the Flames Thursday, a game in which he was held off the scoresheet. It’s about the final seven games, five of them against the Vancouver Canucks, and how the Oilers are playing going into what looks like a first-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets. Of course it is.
“It’s vital,” McDavid said of beating the Flames two nights after the loss. “In a playoff series, you can’t lose two-in-a-row. You’ve got to be able to bounce back. In a series where they’re playing for their lives, it’s desperate hockey. It’s playoff hockey. We did a great job responding.”
As for the 400-game milestone, Jim Matheson of Post Media, who has been scribbling about the Oilers since Wayne Gretzky stepped off Nelson Skalbania’s private jet and onto the tarmac in Edmonton as a teenager, posed the question. “Does it seem like 400 games?”
“Yes and no,” McDavid said. “Looking back, it feels pretty quick. We’ve been through lots with this group. Lots of downs and lots of ups. It’s been a pretty wild kind of start to a career. You’ve got to get to 400 to get so some of those higher numbers, so . . . it’s just another step in the road.”
McDavid waltzed through the Calgary defence to make it 1-0 on a power play early in the first period and added an assist on the 2-0 goal by Ethan Bear 7:19 into the game before picking up an assist on Josh Archibald’s empty-netter to make it 3-1. Goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced, has seen enough of McDavid not to be surprised that he came out focused and firing after being held off the sheet two nights earlier.
“When he gets shut down one game, the next game he’s that much hungrier to help the team,” Smith said. “Everyone knows how incredible he is out on the ice, but I’ve seen a young man grow into a leader of this hockey club. Impressive to watch a young guy like that take this team on his shoulders. To do what he’s done this year, it’s an incredible feat.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
As for the things we think about, yes, McDavid is going to win another scoring title, and by a bunch, and another Hart Memorial Trophy this season. The only question is if he’s unanimous to win the Hart. I think he’s a lock for 100 points. Simply put, McDavid is going to add a lot more personal silverware to his collection over the next 400 games. That’s a given, but not the focus.
“I think we’re playing some good hockey,” McDavid said. “I think there’s lots of things to feel good about. We’ve got seven games left to continue that and to continue to build our game . . . we want to continue to build our game as we get closer here.”
Whether they face the struggling Jets in the first round or it’s the Montreal Canadiens doesn’t matter as much as how the Oilers are playing, that they’re at top of their game. We saw that in the play-ins last season when they were upset by the Chicago Blackhawks, who had no business beating them. So, while much of the buzz is based on other matters, McDavid’s focus is exactly where it needs to be. That’s no surprise.