The Capitals have only faced Connor McDavid once, but they know all about his flashy game. After all, how could anyone be unfamiliar with the Oilers’ star, given his ever growing collection of highlight reel goals and set-up passes?
“Unpredictable,” said Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who figures to match up against McDavid quite a bit when Washington visits the brand new Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday night.
“Just from watching him on TV, you can tell the extra gear that he has,” Niskanen continued. “He can change speeds. He can move laterally and he can handle the puck at a high speed and in tight spaces. That makes him really dangerous. Young kids nowadays, they got the guts to try things. They’ll try a one-on-one, try to make a play in tight spaces, where it hasn’t been coached out of them yet. They’re a little unpredictable. That makes it challenging.”
Through the first two weeks this season, McDavid and the Oilers have been the talk of the league. In fact, Edmonton’s newly-minted captain—the youngest in league history at 19—enters Tuesday night’s games tied for the league lead in points with nine (four goals and five assists) while the upstart Oilers own the second best record in the NHL.
When the Capitals visited Edmonton a year ago, McDavid recorded a goal and an assist in a 7-4 Washington win. He was sidelined by injury when the teams reconvened in November.
On Wednesday night, the Capitals are expecting to see a more confident and comfortable playmaker.
“He’s able to do things with the puck at a very high speed that a lot of guys can’t do,” T.J. Oshie said.
Asked how to best stop McDavid, the Capitals were in agreement: don’t allow him to carry the puck into the offensive zone with speed and space.
“We’re going to have to limit his time and space and hopefully make him feel like he’s a little crowded out there,” Oshie said.
Said Lars Eller: “You want to get on him early. You don’t want to give him that room in the neutral zone because once he gets up to speed he’s hard to stop. You want to stop him early.”
“The more we have the puck, the better,” Eller added. “The best defense is to keep the puck away from him.”
Andre Burakovsky played alongside McDavid when the two were teammates on the Erie Otters in 2013-14, so he’s well-versed on his game.
“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do,” Burakovsky said. “He’s so fast. He likes to just skate around you with the puck. Our D needs to have a really good gap on him. If not, he’s going to have a really big chance to just get around them. So our gap control is going to be the key for us.”
McDavid centers Edmonton’s top line, which includes Milan Lucic on the left and Jordan Eberle on the right. Eberle also ranks among the league leaders in points, with three goals and three assists, while Lucic has two goals and two helpers. That's a whopping 19 points between them.
The Oilers, meantime, are tied for the league lead in goals per game this season (3.83) and are getting offensive contributions from throughout the lineup. But the McDavid line does the majority of the damage, obviously. Shut them down and the Caps' odds of escaping with two points will increase exponentially.
“You got two really skilled guys and Lucic is that up-and-down winger, straight lines,” Niskanen said. “He probably creates some space for [McDavid and Eberle] by driving the net and being around the net front. There’s a combination of skills on that line.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how they do this year,” Niskanen added. “I think they have all the talent to be a much better team than they have been recently, with McDavid leading the way. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers' team than it’s been the last couple of years.”
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