It was as though Connor McDavid was personally offended by the fact that the team from his hometown made him look average last time out. And it was trouble.
Highlighted by if not the greatest then the most ingenious goal that he’s scored since breaking into the NHL, and the first he’s scored at this level in his hometown, McDavid led the spirited Edmonton Oilers to a statement 6-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
McDavid finished with four points, and had a significant hand in cutting Frederik Andersen’s night short. The Toronto netminder allowed three goals on 19 shots in almost 22 minutes before Sheldon Keefe made the questionable decision to pull him from the game.
Auston Matthews scored his team-leading 29th of the season while Kasperi Kapanen added two assists.
Suffering a regulation loss for the first time in 10 games, Toronto will aim to get back on track Wednesday with the Winnipeg Jets in town for their rematch.
Until then, four points:
In an effort to avoid burying the lede, here’s McDavid’s latest epic:
Connor McDavid. Absolutely ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/edUhMmFcmE
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 7, 2020
While McDavid made sure to savour the goal with a finger in the air during his on-ice celebration, he was in no mood to gloat over the moment or rub salt in the very raw wounds belonging to Morgan Rielly.
Asked about the cognition behind the artistry, McDavid responded by saying that he wasn’t going to spill any secrets. Then he tried to sell a story about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ role in the rush, explaining that he was checking over his shoulder to explore the (apparently) very real option of passing the puck instead of dipping Rielly with the brilliant inside-out move.
You buying that? I’m not.
Frederik Andersen slammed his helmet on the bench. He was short and sharp with the media. He seemed furious to have been removed from the game less than two minutes into the middle frame after McDavid and Leon Draisaitl twice dissected the Maple Leafs defence with their brilliant passing.
With everything being rosy to this point, pulling Andersen was in some ways the first real contentious decision that Sheldon Keefe has made. The coach effectively denied the team’s All-Star netminder of the opportunity to dig in and make a difference in his first start in four nights after being rested in favour of Michael Hutchinson.
Keefe had five seconds, he said, to weigh the pros and cons associated with removing Andersen in that moment, in the end deciding that he needed to send a message to the players responsible for failing their goaltender with shoddy defensive structure.
“I'm not going to let Freddie play behind that,” Keefe said. “That's not fair to him. To that point I felt like he already had almost a full game worth of work. We made the change, sometimes you make those changes and it gets your team's attention.”
Toronto scored on the very next shift, but that was the extent of the lift and benefit from removing Andersen from the game. Hutchinson wound up conceding three himself, leaving many to wonder if the cons maybe were more significant after all.
While we have seen the hyper-mobility and activation of the Leafs defensive corps result in a dangerous amount of odd-man rushes given up, it hurt them in a different way versus the Oilers.
In the first period after a little over 30 seconds were spent defending an offensive-zone possession from Edmonton’s top line, Justin Holl collected the puck, skated it through centre, and followed the play below the opposition’s goal line. Fully committed to the attack despite logging what should have been a full shift already, a turnover resulted in McDavid countering the Maple Leafs in transition. This forced Holl to sprint back to the defensive zone to join Morgan Rielly, who had hopped on the ice to replace his normal partner, Martin Marincin.
Fully taxed at this point, Holl failed with his chance to clear upon arrival in the zone, and the Oilers controlled the puck for another 40 seconds before Oscar Klefbom opened the scoring from the point.
All told and completely caught out, Holl skated two full lengths of the ice and chased the puck and tracked defensively for over a minute before Klefbom mercifully put an end to his shift.
It was no more than a month ago that we first saw the makings of the Leafs’ preferred five-man shutdown unit under Keefe.
While Jake Muzzin was a pillar within that defensive structure, Holl and John Tavares were equally as important as the Leafs frustrated the Oilers, and left Edmonton with a 4-1 victory.
It was a different story tonight.
McDavid torched the preferred centre-ice and defensive matchups in the victory, collecting his four points and posting damning underlying data. McDavid finished with a 24-4 on-ice shot attempt share in almost 10 minutes in direct competition with Holl, and owned 80 percent of the possession versus Tavares.
That’s after being limited to one shot and 38 percent possession in that game last month.
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