You have to understand this about Connor McDavid. Of all of the people who were going to talk about one of the most spectacular goals you’ll ever see, the last who would have anything to say about it would be Connor McDavid himself. He did, however, talk about how he’s played before with Morgan Rielly and really, really likes the guy. Too bad McDavid had to destroy him in front of 19,000 people in person and millions more on television.
Coming into the Edmonton Oilers’ 6-4 win Monday night over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Connor McDavid had scored exactly two goals in Scotiabank Arena, and both of those go back to a time when it was known as the Air Canada Centre. The first came in the 2015 World Junior Championship when he scored in an 8-0 slapping of Denmark, then helped Canada to the gold medal with a goal against Russia in the championship game of the same tournament. He didn’t score in three games with Team North America in the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ in 2016, nor had he found the back of the net in any of his three visits to Toronto as an Edmonton Oiler. The last time he was in Toronto, the Oilers lost 6-2 and McDavid said he was “embarrassed” by his play in his hometown.
It’s safe to say he made up for that and more Monday night, which should come as a surprise to no one. The great ones are also the proudest and McDavid knew his past in Toronto was checkered. So when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jumped on a neutral-ice turnover and got it to McDavid in the third period, you knew McDavid had the opportunity to do something special. But still…
All McDavid did was gain the blueline, all the while looking back at Nugent-Hopkins and making everyone believe he was going to pass. Rielly had perfect positioning, like that mattered, until McDavid walked him, using his shirt-flapping speed to beat Rielly to the outside before going high on Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson. It was jaw dropping, even by McDavid’s elevated standards.
“I told (Oilers’ color commentator) Louie DeBrusk, ‘That’s the nicest goal I’ve ever seen,’ ” said teammate Alex Chiasson. “You could tell tonight he was playing with an edge…just pure skill. We’re lucky to have him.”
Even the Oilers, who get to see that kind of brilliance on a regular basis, were somewhat agog by the goal. The scary thing about it is that Rielly was playing McDavid perfectly, maintaining optimum gap control and doing everything right. There is one player in the world who could make that play and Rielly had the misfortune of facing him in that situation, where McDavid proved once again he is the most purely talented and dynamic player who has ever played the game. (Yeah, I said it.)
“We’ve seen him do that to Drew Doughty and multiple elite defensemen,” said Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom. “In skating mobility, he’s one step further than everybody else. You almost need to be a little lucky. You can’t even gap up, you have to be lucky and make him go 50-50 and hopefully he’s going to lose the puck. If I’m out there, I’m going to lay down and hopefully he’s going to lose the puck.”
Now is the part where we mention that in addition to the goal, McDavid also had three assists on the evening to give him 69 points and open up a two-point lead over teammate Leon Draisaitl for the NHL’s scoring lead. He’s now on pace for his fourth straight 100-point season and a career-high 125 points. “It’s definitely special,” McDavid said. “This is a building our team has struggled in and personally I’ve struggled in it before, so it’s definitely fun to come in here and get a big win.”
When it came to the goal itself, McDavid was more interested in talking about how the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, one of the companies he endorses, gave up a luxury box for his family. When pressed on what he saw in Rielly that prompted him to make the move he did, McDavid replied with, “I’m not going to give up any of my secrets. I was just trying to make a play.”
But here’s the thing. McDavid probably could have detailed the goal in a frame-by-frame analysis, breaking it down into minute detail. He also probably could have told the world that he intends to do exactly the same thing in the Oilers’ next game. And guess what? None of it would matter. Every team in the league tries to devise a game plan to stop Connor McDavid and most of them fail miserably.
“If you watch the video, it’s unbelievable,” said Oilers coach Dave Tippett. “He doesn’t ever look toward the goal and all of a sudden he’s in front of it. That’s Connor being Connor.”
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