EDMONTON, Alberta — Brandon Manning looks back on last season and can’t believe how unlucky he was.
Both he and Connor McDavid, the NHL's new poster child, lost their edges during a race to the puck. McDavid accused Manning of deliberately trying to injure him, then called him a coward for not fighting his teammates to even the score.
Manning understands why all of Alberta hates him, why he got death threats, and how the fallout continues.
“It’s Connor McDavid,” he said. “He’s leading the league in scoring as a 19-year-old, it’s a Canadian market, it’s the way hockey is. It’s kind of grown into something like this. The same would have happened if it were (Sidney) Crosby or (Alex) Ovechkin. It blew up a little bit with the last game. But it’s a big market in Canada.”
That "last game" was early in December in Philadelphia when the Flyers came from behind to stun the Oilers, 6-5. After the game, McDavid lashed out at Manning, saying he admitted on the ice his intent to injure him and then cursing the defenseman out.
Manning denied it.
“Never would. That’s not who I am,” Manning said again Thursday. “Anyone around me can vouch for that.”
Manning said he was “pretty confused” at how McDavid reacted when he called him “classless,” because initially he thought McDavid understood there was no intent of malice in their first meeting when he was injured.
The 37 games McDavid missed likely cost him the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. Much like last season, McDavid comes into this game leading the league in scoring again with 63 points.
“I was disappointed with Connor’s comments after the last game,” Manning said. “It kind of bothered me … he said it’s done. We’re out here to play the hockey game. … People can take it for what it’s worth. I’m moving on.”
Interesting, but that’s what McDavid said this morning, as well: that both teams need to focus on other things and not this feud.
“It’s about the two points,” McDavid said of tonight’s game.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said there’s no room for distraction here.
His team found another way to lose on Wednesday night, 3-1, in Calgary and needs to salvage the final four points on this Western Canada trip if it wants to stay within earshot of the wild card.
“We’ve got a pretty important hockey game in front of us,” Hakstol said. “If that’s part of the game, so be it. That’s not something we have to discuss or manage from our side.”
Now, whether other Oilers and Flyers feel the same remains to be seen. Given the stakes for the Flyers, it would be stupid to initiate something when points take precedence.
“We’re coming off a tough loss and worried about the two points and nothing less,” Manning said.
That said, he admitted he will continue to agitate and finish his hits, even if McDavid is the one on the ice.
“I will play hard just like I do against every top guy and stick to my game,” Manning said. “The stuff off the ice should stay off the ice. ... I’m not out there to run my mouth or get under his skin. I’ll play my game.”
Hakstol said after an optional morning skate that the power play will be adjusted.
The power play went 0 for 4 against Calgary. The turning point of the game was a five-minute power play, in which the Flames cleared the zone 11 times and held the Flyers to just two shots.
Hakstol would not speculate whether “adjustments” meant personnel or strategy. Only that there will be changes to both units.
“We’ll make some adjustments,” he said. “We’re looking at and working on it obviously, here over the next couple hours. We’ve discussed some adjustments. Whether it’s personnel or other … we could have turned that hockey game the other direction, especially in that first period. It’s worth taking a pretty hard look at.”
• Michal Neuvirth remains in net.
• Michael Del Zotto (leg/bone bruise) wanted to go this game but will not play as the Flyers' defense remains the same for the Oilers.
• Flyers have outshot opponents, 75-34, in the first period over the last six games.