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Connor McDavid enters the NHL Art Ross Trophy Race

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
2 months ago
On January 24th, Connor McDavid was 22 points behind Nathan MacKinnon for the NHL lead. McDavid had five games in hand, but a 22-point gap with 39 games remaining looked daunting. Fast forward to today, and suddenly he trails Nikita Kucherov by 13 points and is 10 back of MacKinnon, and McDavid still has five games in hand. He’s gained seven points on Kucherov and a whopping 12 points on MacKinnon in the past six games.
Suddenly the margin looks much more manageable. Even in late January, when it looked like a two-horse race, many people, including me, did say McDavid could go on a heater, but the odds were low he could catch both players. But in true McDavid fashion, he’s elevated his game, and after producing 17 points in his last six games, McDavid’s quest for his sixth Art Ross trophy — and fourth in a row — looks realistic.
It won’t be easy because McDavid is chasing two of the top players in the world. But he just happens to be the best player in the world, and after gaining seven points in six games, erasing a 13-point deficit in 33 games (with five extra games to play) looks very plausible.
If McDavid does complete the comeback, he will tie Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe for second place with six scoring titles. Wayne Gretzky is the leader with 10.

McDavid Benefits?

The biggest advantage he has is the schedule. Not only does he have five games in hand, but the Oilers also have a condensed schedule down the stretch, and McDavid has said many times he prefers playing more often. The numbers back it up.
March and April have been the most productive months of his career.
In 107 career games in March, he’s produced 175 points for an average of 1.63 points/game (PPG).
He averages 1.60 PPG in April.
Here are the other months of his career.
October: 119 points in 78 games for 1.52 PPG.
November: 144 points in 101 games for 1.42 PPG.
December: 131 points in 92 games for 1.42 PPG.
January: 121 points in 87 games for 1.39 PPG.
February: 144 points in 98 games for 1.47 PPG.
May: 21 points in eight games for 2.63 PPG. I didn’t include May above, because he won’t play regular season games again in May, unless there another pandemic.
He takes pride in being the best conditioned athlete on the team, and that helps him later in the season. Starting tomorrow, Edmonton has 33 games in the final 64 days of the season. McDavid loves playing every second day and he will get that down the stretch.

Commitment to Defence

Edmonton is a much better defensive team this year under Kris Knoblauch. The players have bought in, and the subtle changes Knoblauch and Paul Coffey have installed have worked wonders. The Oiler rank third in goals against/game since the coaching change. They are allowing only 2.42 GA/GP, trailing only Winnipeg and Florida. Edmonton is also third in GF/GP at 3.81, slightly behind Dallas (3.88) and Colorado (3.85). Edmonton also has the best points% in the league over that span at .778 with a stellar 28-8 record.
They entire team, and especially McDavid’s line, has bought in to playing a smart, sound and controlled defensive structure.
Last night, McDavid’s line had a brutal shift late in the third period that resulted in Patrick Kane tying the game.
It might have been the worst shift we’ve seen from the McDavid line and Ekholm – Bouchard pairing under Knoblauch. It was an outlier, and I believe it ignited McDavid. He leads by example. His work ethic is unquestionable, and he took the game over in the third period producing four assists in 5:58 of playing time.
He got things started with an excellent forecheck and stripping Mo Seider of the puck, which led to Dylan Holloway’s goal.
Then he made this electrifying rush that resulted in Evander Kane’s 19th goal of the season.
McDavid took the game over in the third period, and expressed post-game how he didn’t like their second period.
“I liked our first period, but the second period is not what we want to do,” said McDavid. “We gave up numerous chances, numerous odd-man rushes, the forwards not doing a good job coming back, the D-men pinching at strange times, and I thought Stu (Skinner) bailed us out big time in the second. We were fortunate to be tied, and I thought we did a great job of grabbing it (in the third), just turning our work rate up, simplifying, and a lot of the cliche stuff, but stuff that works.”
McDavid led the way amping up his work ethic. According to Knoblauch, McDavid was one of the few players who did play hard the entire game, but he cranked it up a notch in the third. I know McDavid has said many times he doesn’t need the Art Ross or Hart trophies. He’s won those, and he wants the Stanley Cup, and I understand that reasoning. However, winning the scoring race won’t decrease his chances of winning the Cup, especially when the team is this focused defensively.
McDavid is actually more productive at 5×5 this season than he has been the past two years, and the only season of his career he produced more at 5×5 was in the 56-game 2021 season. I’d argue him being more productive at 5×5 actually increases the Oilers’ chances of being successful in the playoffs.
He’s currently running a 60.89CF%, 60.97FF%, 59.78SF%, 60.71GF%, 62.66xGF% and a 61.69SCF%. All of those would be career highs, except for the GF%. He had a 62.1GF% in 2017. It is important to note his GF% under Knoblauch (36 games) is 64.8%.
This has been the best season at 5×5 of McDavid’s career. He’s on pace to set career highs in 5×5 points, hits, blocked shots and rebounds created.
And his recent surge has put him squarely back in the race as he trails Kucherov by 13 points and is 10 back of MacKinnon — with five games in hand on both of them.

Largest Deficit to Win Art Ross

Feb 13, 2024; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Evan Bouchard (2) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
If he does complete the comeback and win the scoring race, he would tie Daniel Sedin for the third-largest deficit to overcome. However, the other top comebacks each had a significant injury component.
Sedin won the 2011 scoring race after trailing Sidney Crosby by 20 points on December 29th. However, Crosby was injured on January 5th and didn’t play the rest of the season. Sedin was nine points back of Steven Stamkos on January 1st.
In 1987-1988, Mario Lemieux overcame a 23-point deficit to Wayne Gretzky on December 7th to win the scoring race. However, Gretzky missed 16 games in late December and January. Lemieux finished the season with 168 points (2.18 PPG), while Gretzky had 149 and 2.33 PPG.
In 2002-03, Peter Forsberg overcame a 32-point deficit to catch Mario Lemieux. On December 28th, Lemieux had 64 points in 35 games, while Forsberg had 32 in 30 games. Forsberg caught fire and scored 74 points in his final 45 games, while Lemieux battled a few nagging injuries and his overall health due to his battle with cancer. Forsberg did finish the season with a higher PPG at 1.41 to Lemieux’s 1.36. Forsberg did also trail Joe Thornton and Markus Naslund by 16 points, so he did make a great comeback to win the scoring race.
If McDavid can complete the comeback and Kucherov and MacKinnon remain healthy, it would be a remarkable feat.
It looked very daunting only a few weeks ago, but now after the first six-assist game of his career, it looks very doable.
Let the race begin!

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