In case you haven’t heard, Connor McDavid is very good at hockey.
Heading into his four games against the Vancouver Canucks this week, McDavid needed 13 points to reach 100 for the season. He did with time to spare, reaching 100 before the end of the second period on Saturday night. Only three players have scored 100 points in fewer than McDavid’s 53 games: Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretzky.
It was an obscene display of skill on Saturday, as McDavid just outright dominated the Canucks every time he stepped on the ice, finishing with a goal and three assists.
And yet, the Canucks made a game of it. Depleted by injuries, a brutal schedule, and fatigue stemming from their COVID-19 outbreak, the Canucks still scored three goals and pushed hard in the third period to try to tie the game.
All three Canucks goals came when McDavid wasn’t on the ice and the Oilers couldn’t put the puck in the net when McDavid was on the bench, which seems pretty typical. It would have been sadly fitting for the Oilers if they had lost the game in which McDavid hit such an impressive milestone.
For the Canucks, they have to try to be content with the moral victory of putting up a fight despite everything they’ve been through. Lurking in the background, as well, is the question of whether they should even be playing these games.
“I’m proud of our group. I’ll always be proud of our group,” said Thatcher Demko. “We were dealt a tough hand, I think everyone knows that. Obviously, we’ve had some injuries coming out of COVID, like I think a lot of the players expected to see happen. There’s guys not really physically ready to play.
“We have some guys stepping up right now that have been grinding all year practicing and being on the taxi squad and I think they’re doing a good job of stepping in and trying to do their best to contribute. We’re all doing our best here and obviously, we’re all competitors and it’s tough when you don’t win. We all want to win every night but we’re doing our best to compete and trying to get wins along the way.”
It seemed inevitable that McDavid’s historic achievement would come against the Canucks. They often seem to be the opponents for those big moments, such as when Gretzky passed Gordie Howe’s all-time goal-scoring record with his 802nd career goal against the Canucks, in front of not only Howe himself, but also Tom Hanks and Martin Short.
Weirdly, they actually stopped the game in the middle of the second period after Gretzky scored, rolled out the red carpet, showed a video, and had Gretzky give a speech. It was bizarre. Thankfully, they didn’t do that for McDavid’s 100th career point.
Fun fact: the Canucks went on to win that game against the Kings and Pavel Bure scored his 50th goal of the season. He would go on to lead the NHL with 60 goals.
Unfortunately, just like the Canucks will always be the goat in videos of Gretzky breaking Howe’s record, they’ll be the goat in videos of McDavid’s 100th point. When asked if he’ll ever appreciate being part of history, Demko had a hilarious answer.
“I’m not going to be a fan until I’m croaking,” he said. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Speaking of croaking, I’m ready for this season to die. I was ready for the end as I watched this game.
- As much as McDavid played off the pursuit of 100 points as if it wasn’t a big deal, you could tell by his play that he wanted it as bad as The Offspring want you. He was flying right from his first shift, scoring with a wickedly quick snap shot that deflected off Alex Edler’s skate and past Demko to open the scoring.
- Beyond the goal, the first period was relatively quiet, with the Canucks keeping things close. The second period, however, was wild. The two teams traded power plays, chances, and goals, with the two teams combining for six goals plus one more that was called back on an offside.
- It’s frustrating that Quinn Hughes’s goal was called back, not only because it was a beautiful top-corner shot, but also because Bo Horvat was pushed offside by Ethan Bear as they came across the line. Horvat didn’t have a chance to drag his skate to stay onside with Bear on him. Horvat really should have hung his food in a tree away from his tent to prevent a Bear attack.
- Moments later, instead of Hughes helping to tie the game, he was victimized by McDavid to make it 2-0 for the Oilers. Hughes stepped up on McDavid in the neutral zone when the puck got away from him, but McDavid was able to still poke the puck forward to create a 3-on-1. McDavid set up Jesse Puljujarvi for the goal.
- J.T. Miller responded for the Canucks by taking advantage of a turnover at the blue line, which is a nice change from opposing teams doing the same on his own turnovers at the blue line. Miller picked off a Darnell Nurse pass and took off for a breakaway. He faked the shot with a Keslerian leg-kick, then patiently pulled the puck to his backhand and around a sprawling Mike Smith.
- A couple of minutes later, the Canucks tied the game. Jack Rathbone activated down the boards from the point and sent what was, to be quite honest, a hilariously terrible pass into the slot. Fortunately, the pass to no one was picked off by Josh Archibald but he couldn’t handle it. In the ensuing confusion, Jimmy Vesey knocked the puck free to Travis Boyd, who scored his first goal as a Canuck. Boyd buoyed the boys with that one.
- The Oilers quickly responded on the power play. McDavid went to plaid to gain the offensive zone, then dropped the puck to James Neal, who relayed it to Leon Draisaitl for the one-timer. Demko never stood a chance. Nor did he butterfly a chance.
- Two minutes later, the Canucks tied it up again. Hughes hit Hawryluk with a pass in full flight. He set up Tyler Graovac in the middle and the Graovy Train unleashed a wicked wrist shot that went off the crossbar and in.
- It’s been a good few games for Graovac and Hawryluk, whether with Matthew Highmore for the previous two games or Marc Michaelis on Saturday. Graovac doesn’t have a ton of speed, but he’s decent defensively and has an excellent shot. He seems to work well with the speedy Hawryluk.
- “He’s played well, especially these last two games,” said head coach Travis Green about Graovac. “When you have injuries and guys come out of the lineup, it’s a big opportunity for guys and he’s been waiting for an opportunity, he’s been working hard, and you’re happy when guys have success.”
- “I think he’s just getting more comfortable,” said Miller. “He’s got the skills to make those little plays and obviously on his two goals there’s a pretty high-end shot. He’s been good for us, it’s nice to see him play a few in a row. He’s a good defender down low, he’s low and slow — doesn’t leave too early — and he’s a big body, hard to handle in the D-zone.”
- With less than a minute left in the second period, the Oilers took the lead for good. On a two-man advantage, McDavid set up Draisaitl for yet another one-timer, which he hammered into the back of the net — 100 points and a 4-3 lead.
- The Oilers scored twice on the power play, while the Canucks went 0-for-5. If you’re looking for the difference in the game, there it is. “I thought our power play wasn’t anywhere near good enough for what we needed,” said Green.
- There were definite positives to take from this game. Graovac and Hawryluk look like pieces for a potential cheap fourth line for the Canucks. Jack Rathbone had another solid game and moved the puck very well, albeit in a sheltered role. And Nils Höglander was an obvious bright spot with his continued work ethic, chance creation, and puck protection.