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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: Connor McDavid shines, but depth key in dominant win

If there’s one player who loves playing against the Calgary Flames, it’s Connor McDavid.

Last night, he fired home three goals as hats poured onto the ice in a 5-2 win over the team from down the QE2. His impressive stat line also featured one notable goal: a massive one-timer from just above the right faceoff circle.

“If you look at the replay though it was a little fluffy!” joked linemate Leon Draisaitl, who finished the night with three assists. “I knew it was coming. That question had to come hey?”

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You see, it stems from recent Oilers practices where McDavid has been working on that exact shot. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug pointed it out, and Draisaitl called it “fluffy.”

But fluffy or not, McDavid’s dominance against the Flames continued. In 31 games against them, he’s scored 26 goals and 17 assists for 40 points to go along with a cool three hat-tricks. For him? Just another night in the office. And as good as he was, he didn’t shy from giving credit where it was due: to the Oilers third line.

“I think the addition of Rhino and Foges (Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele) have helped that line a lot,” he said after the game. “That whole line has been so good. Chipping in with a huge goal tonight and building momentum for us throughout the night.”

It was that line after all that got things going on early in the night. Foegele had thrown a puck towards the front of the Flames net at the 13:08 mark right to where Ryan had himself firmly planted. One quick bounce off Ryan, the puck was in the back of the net and the Oilers had a 1-0 lead.

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It led to the trio of Foegele, Ryan, and Zack Kassian taking regular shifts all night and being relied upon all night love to provide value on the ice. It was a night where the underlying numbers didn’t like the Oilers in thanks to a desperate Calgary Flames club that flipped pucks from virtually anywhere. That third line, however, fared the best at 5×5 in terms of controlling the shot attempts and had the strongest expected goal share at just a shade under 53 percent.

“I thought as the third period got going there and we were up by two, we went with the three lines and there was a flow and rhythm there and we were all on the same page,” said head coach Dave Tippett after the win. “That’s nothing against the other line that wasn’t playing there, but we got three lines that are just going hard and playing a similar style, it doesn’t matter who the players are. You can look like a pretty good team.”

The other line mentions the Oilers fourth of Brendan Perlini, Ryan McLeod, and Kyle Turris — a trio who combined for only one shift in the third period. They just weren’t needed when the team’s top three lines were rolling the way they did. It’s a good problem to have for the Oilers especially when you look at a team that has struggled for years to have a third line that didn’t get absolutely caved in on a nightly basis.

When the top trio of McDavid, Drasiaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi — who scored on a beautiful wrist-shot in the third frame — wasn’t on the ice, the second line of Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto kept the pressure on. Then without hesitation, that Oilers third line jumped the boards.

Shift, after shift, after shift, after shift, the Oilers top nine forwards were able to weather any slight breeze Calgary blew in and respond with gale-force wins. This, as Tippett alluded to, can make you look like a pretty good team.

“Calgary is a desperate team — they’re going to play hard. They through a lot of pucks at the net, made us defend and compete hard. We capitalized on a couple powerplays which helped push the game along for us, but they didn’t quit,” said Tippett. “I thought after Jesse’s goal, we locked it down a bit.

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“We didn’t give ’em much after that. It’s a hard game, you gotta give the other team some credit. but I thought our guys hung in there and we found a way to win.”

Find a way to win they did. Edmonton hangs around home with another two days off between games before the Anaheim Ducks pay a visit to Rogers Place Tuesday night.

Backhanders…

  • As of writing this early Sunday morning, there’s no official word from the NHL’s department of player safety as to whether or not they look at Rasmus Andersson’s headbutt on Yamamoto. The Oilers, however, think that will change. “I’m sure the league will look at it.,” said Tippett after the game. “I looked it. To me, it’s a headbutt, but the league will look at it.”
  • The post-game press conference format has slightly changed this year from last. Instead of just having one player up speaking to the media, the Oilers are now sending out four players in pairs of two. First up last night was Draisaitl and Puljujarvi, who were absolute comedic gold throughout their interviews. I highly recommend watching it in full.
  • McDavid notched career point 579 last night officially moving him to seventh place on the all-time Oilers scoring list. Next up? Ryan Smyth’s 631 and Paul Coffey’s 669 — both marks he shouldn’t have any issue hitting this season given his current 205 points pace.

What they’re saying…

It’s up to the league to decide if Rasmus Andersson will pay a higher price for what many saw as a headbutt on Kailer Yamamoto.

What isn’t up for debate is that the defender’s overzealousness played a significant role in the Flames’ (latest) opening night demise.

Indeed, a significant price was already paid, as the double minor Andersson earned after reacting to Yamamoto’s bump into Jacob Markstrom led to the first of two power-play goals by, you guessed it, Connor McDavid.

On a night the Flames otherwise deserved plenty of credit for, it was McDavid’s third career hat trick against the Flames that was the difference.

However, when your franchise is on a run that has seen it lose 18 of 19 season openers, including 12 in a row, tough breaks tend to be the norm.

Fact is, you make your own breaks when you overreact like Andersson did. – Eric Francis, Sportsnet


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]