Taking the Night Off

by | Apr 9, 2023

Taking the Night Off

by | Apr 9, 2023

You’ve seen him do it just as I have. The speed, the moves. The way he has of making everyone else on the ice look like they’re a step behind, because they are. Connor McDavid has that kind of presence on my TV. So can you blame me for wanting to see some of that goodness with my own eyes? (The answer is no.) I tried as the Oilers took on first LA and then Anaheim over two nights midweek the first week of April. But unfortunately, both games did nothing in particular to feature the magnificent talents of this guy.

Where was that speed versus LA? Left in Customs on the way down here, it seemed. What resulted was what McDavid would label after the game “low-event hockey.”

Against Anaheim, same thing. The game ended 3-1 Oilers, the last into an empty net. Almost nothing happened all game, with the conclusion that Coach Jay Woodcroft would draw being that the supporting players did the heavy lifting.

That’s all nice, but I wanted some Oilers memories to pack away in my head. Nugent-Hopkins did provide one, an assist on the empty-net goal that made his point total on the season a nice, round 100.

After the contest, he reflected on the milestone. “I saw [McDavid] scan the ice looking for me. . . . Just happy to get the win.” He would later add, “I never really thought I’d get to [100], but to get to do it with this group, obviously some amazing players, all throughout the lineup. There are definitely steps we want to keep taking, but just proud to do it with this group.”

The group was happy, too, if the raucous cheering heard from behind the door before they opened the dressing room was any indication.

On the game itself, Nugent-Hopkins said, “It’s a good thing that in these tight-checking games, we aren’t getting frustrated. When you get frustrated, every team has skill, and they can make you pay for that. I think we’ve matured as a group, and that enables us to find a way to win in every situation.”

So there’s that theme again “tight checking” being a synonym for “not flashy like we often play.” McDavid had been onto this the night before. After the game against LA, McDavid commented on the lethargic pace, especially early on, saying that “That’s just the way it’s going to be against LA.” Oh great! Can you please do that for seven games in the playoffs versus the Kings? (No, please don’t.)

McDavid did add, “It’s fun. It makes for competitive hockey on the ice. It may not translate onto the TV, but it’s competitive. It’s emotional. It’s intense.” He’s right about one thing: it didn’t translate, even to most of the people in the arena, possibly excepting the Oilers fans who carried a lot of the momentum in terms of cheering on Tuesday. Wednesday in Anaheim, the crowd was also pretty orange and blue.

One interesting side light as far as the in-arena atmosphere in LA was the newfound anger at McDavid on the part of Kings fans. Why? Because on Thursday two weeks ago, the superstar had taken a run at Kings’ defenseman Mikey Anderson, boarding him and causing what appeared to be a head trauma. Anderson is still out. The result was that every time the Oilers’ captain touched the puck, he got booed. At least in the first period, and a bit of the second. By late in the middle period, that, too had died down. It picked up when he picked up his game, in a suddenly invigorated third period.

But the game never really got to a place where it felt like a playoff tune-up, or an essential game for either side. So what’s it going to take to wake up two of the better teams in the West?

McDavid did do one kind of nice stutter-step move in the third period against LA. He got an assist on the second goal, the eventual winner. But he didn’t play, nor did the Oilers, like he was playing for keeps. Is he just so good, and are the Oilers, that they can afford to take most of the night off and still win? Is that what’s going to happen if these two teams face each other for real in a week and a half?

LA had the incentive that Edmonton had just beaten them 2-0 the week prior. Both teams had the incentive of the looming playoffs. Time to make some statements. Or maybe time to rest your stars for the tough four rounds they hope to have in their future. But it almost looked like McDavid was taking a couple of evenings off despite being dressed. Disappointing, but then again, a mark in his favor that he has created such high expectations for spectacular plays to happen every time he plays.

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