EDMONTON -- Connor McDavid picked up where he left off, scoring two goals to pace the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames in NHL exhibition play Tuesday.
Kailer Yamamoto and Patrick Russell also scored for the Oilers while Elias Lindholm replied for Calgary in a game played before thousands of empty seats at Rogers Place.
The arena has been locked down to prevent any spread of COVID-19 as Edmonton hosts the Western Conference play-in/play-off series to finish the 2019-20 season.
"I liked our first period, didn't like our second and I thought we responded well in the third," said McDavid post-game.
"We kind of had all the highs and lows of one game. Those are the types of swings you're going to see in the playoffs."
Oiler centre Leon Draisaitl, the NHL's regular season scoring leader, also had a strong game.
The game was only a minute old when Draisaitl chased down a dump-in to Calgary's end to spark an attack that ended with Yamamoto firing a rebound over goalie Cam Talbot's glove to make it 1-0.
The Oilers' power play, the league's best at 29.5 per cent in the regular season, made it 2-0 at the 7:44 mark. Draisaitl threaded a cross-ice pass through heavy traffic in the slot to McDavid on the doorstep who then flicked the puck over a sprawling Talbot.
Calgary battled back in the second period, taking the game to Edmonton on the forecheck and outshooting them 16-7. Lindholm, on the power play, jumped on a loose puck at the crease and scored high on Oiler goalie Mike Smith to cut the lead to 2-1 with less than four seconds to play in the period.
The Oilers put the game away late in the third, with Russell and McDavid scoring 33 seconds apart. McDavid was a short side wrist shot from close in on Calgary's David Rittich.
Edmonton is hosting the 12 Western Conference teams as one of two NHL hub cities. Toronto is hosting the Eastern side.
The COVID clampdown made for a surreal atmosphere inside Rogers Place.
The downtown arena was closed to fans. The lower bowl stands were tarped over. Massive video screens hung down from the rafters. Calgary, dressed in red, was the designated home team, welcomed to the ice by the announcer revving up the phantom faithful with a drawn out: "Yourrrrr Calgarrrry Flaaaaames!"
At times it sounded like a late night beer league game at the local arena, albeit at a slightly faster pace: players could be heard calling for pucks, swearing blue streaks at opponents, and sometimes derisively asking the referee what game he was watching. The slap of the sticks and the boom of the puck echoed off the plastic and mesh seats.
Media members, masked up and temperature checked, were spaced at distances high up in the rink, just below the press box.
McDavid said they adapted to playing in a big empty.
"You have two teams that don't like each other very much, so it didn't feel too different that way," he said. "We got more and more used to it as the game went on."
While it was a tune up game, there were flashes of the bad blood between these two Alberta rivals, with multiple post-whistle scrums along the glass and in the goal creases.
In the first period, Oiler forward Zack Kassian levelled Calgary defenceman Erik Gustafsson, knocking his helmet off, while Flame forward Matthew Tkachuk pushed himself right into Mikko Koskinen's crease, prompting the goalie to whack him with his stick.
Tkachuk, famous for his pest tactics, also delivered a hit on former Flame James Neal, leading to Neal lumberjack-whacking him on the back with his stick and drawing a penalty.
Talbot played the first half of the game for Calgary making 19 saves on 21 shots, many of the difficult variety. Rittich came on halfway through the second.
Koskinen saved 17 of 17 between the pipes in the first half of the game for Edmonton. Smith took over the second half.
Calgary outshot Edmonton 37-30 but the dangerous chances favoured the Oilers.
Both teams have goaltending decisions to make. For Edmonton, Koskinen (18-13-3, .917 save percentage) and Smith (19-12-6, .902 percentage) have been a serviceable platoon tandem.
In Calgary, Talbot has put up numbers to push Rittich for the top job, with a .919 save percentage to .902 for Rittich.
Draisaitl and McDavid have become the league's deadliest one-two punch and are being counted on to take the Oilers on a deep playoff run.
Draisaitl had a massive breakthrough season, scoring 43 goals and collecting 110 points when play was suspended March 12 due to the COVID pandemic.
McDavid was second in the league at 34 goals and 97 points.
The Oilers will play the Chicago Blackhawks in a best of five play-in series starting Saturday afternoon. The Flames play the Winnipeg Jets.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Kerfoot pots two as Leafs cruise past Canadiens
TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe only really noticed the fact his team was playing in front of no fans during Tuesday's national anthem.
Other than that, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach felt like it was a pretty normal game — in an extremely abnormal time.
Morgan Rielly had a goal and two assists, Alexander Kerfoot scored twice, and the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in their exhibition matchup as the NHL's restart to its pandemic-hit 2019-20 season got into full swing.
"During the anthems is a time when you're looking at the flag and you're taking in the whole environment," Keefe said. "It's much different today than what you're accustomed to. It's the time when you really feel the moment and are really missing the fans and the environment, and recognize what they bring.
"Once the puck dropped...it really just felt like hockey and you didn't notice it a whole lot."
The first-ever July meeting in the franchises' 103-year rivalry, things were made even stranger by the fact Montreal was designated as the home team and occupied the Leafs' dressing room at Scotiabank Arena.
"2020's been strange," Habs forward Brendan Gallagher said. "That was probably the strangest thing we've been through."
Toronto, meanwhile, wore its road whites and used the visitors bench for the first time in the building's 21-year history.
"The whole atmosphere is just different considering what we're going through," Leafs captain John Tavares said. "You just kind of go the flow and try to focus on proper preparation as best you can."
Roughly a dozen rows of seats up from the glass were tarped off in the spectator-less venue, while eight separate screens were suspended from the ceiling, adding a video game-like feel as both teams played a game for the first time in 140 days.
"There's a lot that's been put into this," Tavares added. "Just fortunate to be back out there competing."
Ilya Mikheyev had the other goal for the Leafs, who got 28 saves from Frederik Andersen. Tomas Tatar and Paul Byron replied for the Canadiens. Carey Price stopped 19 shots for Montreal.
The Canadiens open their best-of-five qualifying round series against the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday — the first day the games will truly matter — before the Leafs do the same 24 hours later against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Gallagher said his team will need to simplify its approach this weekend.
"We were all probably guilty of it," he said. "The brain wasn't keeping up."
Mikheyev, who suffered a gruesome wrist laceration in late December, scored just 33 seconds into his first game back inside an empty, cavernous building as the league resumed action after shuttering operations in mid-March because of COVID-19.
Kerfoot made it 2-0 at 6:46 of the second when he roofed a rebound after Kasperi Kapanen was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway.
Tatar got one back for Montreal with 3:04 left in the second on a power play, but Kerfoot tipped Rielly's shot late in the period to make it 3-1. Leafs rookie Nick Robertson, who was making his NHL debut after a 55-goal season in the Ontario Hockey League, picked up the other assist.
"He's a very impressive young kid to step into this situation," Kerfoot said. "You can see whenever he's on the ice how good he is."
Byron made it 3-2 at 8:07 of the third, but Rielly restored the two-goal lead 1:22 later with Toronto's second shorthanded goal of the night.
"Overall we were happy with it," the Leafs defenceman said of his team's effort. "Any time you play any kind of pre-tournament, a pre-season game like this, there's going to be some kinks to work out."
While television viewers were treated to artificial crowd noise, media seated in the upper bowl could hear almost every word uttered on the ice — including a couple of expletives — which is why the NHL has implemented a five-second delay on broadcasts. One particularly loud curse word bellowed in the second period, however, got past censors.
Music blared as the players, who are staying inside the NHL's tightly-controlled bubble that includes the Fairmont Royal York a short walk away, hit the ice for warmups with only journalists, arena employees and league staff looking on.
One member of the Leafs let out a giant "wooooo," while Toronto winger Mitch Marner kept up his pre-game tradition by pretending to throw a puck over the glass to an imaginary fan after warmups.
"It reminds me a little bit of like a minor hockey tournament where you're there and staying in the same hotel as a bunch of other teams," Kerfoot said of the first few days in the bubble. "It's got obviously a different feel, but this whole this whole tournament is unique and situation that we're in is unique."
Players from both teams stood side-by-side on the blue line for the national anthem as a show of solidarity with social justice movements which, like the pandemic, have been front of mind since hockey was last played in North America.
The Eastern Conference clubs are situated in the Toronto hub as part of the 24-team restart, while the West has been centralized in Edmonton.
With the Canadiens designated as the home side, Coldplay's "Fix You" rang out around the building as the teams took to the ice before Mikheyev finished off a 2-on-1 with John Tavares on the game's first shot.
There was barely any contact in the only exhibition contest for both teams until Toronto defencemn Jake Muzzin thumped Montreal winger Alex Belzile to the ice early in the second.
The offensively-loaded Leafs looked disjointed much of the night, but neither team was helped by sloppy ice conditions in the second game of the day in humid Toronto.
Montreal was all but buried as the NHL's 24th-ranked team when the schedule was suspended 4 1/2 months ago because of the virus, but was handed a lifeline when the league settled on a 24-team restart plan.
Toronto sat in a playoff spot, but because it sat outside the top-4 in the conference, has to go through Columbus to make the usual 16-club playoff bracket.
"I thought we gave up the neutral zone at times a little bit too easily," said Keefe, who has focused heavily on defensive structure during training camp. "But I like the way we worked."
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press