Connor McDavid Is Eating Teams Alive
12:06 PM EST on February 1, 2021
I would like to direct your attention to the NHL points leaderboard for a brief moment. You know what? This is too important for me to make you click. Here is a screenshot:
The majority of this image is your typical early-season cluster, featuring plenty of familiar names, some random hot streaks, and some notable absences. But wow, my goodness, check out those two guys at the top, far above every other skater in the NHL. At No. 2, there's Leon Draisaitl, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers, and then, at No. 1, that Connor McDavid, who, yes, also plays for the Edmonton Oilers. That's 43 points between the two of them! The next highest pair of teammates, Colorado's MacKinnon and Cale Makar, have combined for a mere 25. You don't need to know a lot about hockey to understand that that is a gigantic gap after fewer than a dozen games.
But the greatness of the NHL's leading point-scorer is not expressed best by numbers, but instead, by what he's done on the ice. On Saturday against the Leafs, McDavid had two goals and an assist, and the following day against the Sens, he picked up four assists to go with one goal, and ... ugh, wait, I'm just giving you more numbers.
On Saturday against the Leafs, Connor McDavid scored a jaw-dropping goal where he carried the puck the length of the ice, outskated everyone on the Toronto penalty kill with his blinding speed, and then finished with some quick thinking at point blank range. It's an absolute frickin' stunner.
And then in overtime of that very same contest, McDavid picked up the winner by finishing a smooth Draisaitl pass with some excellent hand-eye coordination and timing that snuck the puck past the goaltender. Perhaps not quite as much of a "holy shit!" moment, but still a perfect way to end a hockey game.
Up against Ottawa on the following night, he took full advantage of the league's worst team. Aside from being the key that unlocked the power play with his passing and his mere terrifying presence, McDavid also tied Brock Boeser for the NHL lead in goals with his eighth on the year. This one was as much a testament to Edmonton's whirlwind of an attack with the extra man as it was to McDavid's finishing ability. This unit's movement was so disorienting that it opened up a simple opportunity for the world's best player in the exact worst place. Poor Marcus Hogberg didn't know what hit him.
A tool I recommend playing around with is Natural Stat Trick's line stats for McDavid and Draisaitl, which back up what your eyes tell you about the load they carry for the Oilers. Here's the one that jumps out to me the most: At even strength, the Oilers have a plus-8 goal differential when at least one of those two is on the ice. But when neither of them are out there, the Oilers have only scored three goals, and they've allowed 15.
This is good for Edmonton in some ways: "Aw hell yeah, we have two absolutely dominant skaters, while most teams don't even have one guy of their caliber." But in other ways it's also a little scary: "Oh god, oh no, ahhh crud, what do we do when they have to take a little break?" The Oilers are just a remarkably lopsided team, and they'll need some more depth scoring to survive a cutthroat Canadian division where they have so far lost more games than they've won. Yes, Connor McDavid is shit-hot right now, and when that's the case the Oilers just put up too many goals to lose. But the pressure is on him to avoid cooling down even a little bit, because the rest of the roster might not be capable of picking up the slack. Just as much as McDavid going off, that's a familiar state of things in Edmonton, too.