Connor McDavid was the story Saturday night in the latest chapter of the Battle of the Alberta.
The Edmonton Oilers’ captain had a natural hat trick and two assists, leading his team to a 7-1 thumping of the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place.
But in the Oilers’ recent climb up in National Hockey League North Division standings, going 9-2 after losing six of their first nine, the narrative has been secondary scoring. During this 11-game stretch, 15 different players have scored for the Oilers, a dozen of them have at least two goals, and eight have tallied three or more times. By contrast, the first nine games saw 11 different players score, only five more than once.
This is the offensive depth the Oilers have so desperately needed, as they have been unable to become a championship contender despite having two of the top five players on the planet in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
In the last three seasons, Draisaitl and McDavid have 234 goals and 372 assists between them, both led the league in points, and yet Edmonton hasn’t advanced a playoff round.
The brilliance of Draisaitl and McDavid has never been in doubt, but as the saying goes, you’re only good as your weakest link, and the Oilers got only so far as the supporting cast could take them.
That was made stark as the 2020-21 season got underway, with the Oilers going 3-6. Draisaitl (6) and McDavid (5) have combined for an eye-popping 11 goals in the nine games, representing over 40% of Edmonton’s scoring. Meanwhile, the rest of the roster had 15 goals, seven of which came from either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (4) or Kailer Yamamoto (3). The third and fourth lines totaled just three goals, including an empty-netter from Josh Archibald.
In the eleven games since, Draisaitl (4) and McDavid (7) have again combined for 11 goals, while the rest of the team has lit the lamp 35 times, accounting for more than three quarters of Edmonton’s scoring on its 9-2 run.
What’s most notable is that these ancillary contributions are coming not from just a couple of players or a single line but from throughout the lineup.
Nugent-Hopkins has continued to do his part, scoring five more times to bring his season total to nine. Jesse Puljujarvi has his first five goals of the season. Alex Chaisson has gotten off the schneid, scoring three times in the last four games Archibald has also added three more tallies. And Dominik Kahun, Jujhar Khaira, James Neal and Yamamoto all have two apiece in this 11-game span.
And then there are the blueliners.
Over this 9-2 surge, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have five and three goals, respectively, helping the Oilers rank among the NHL’s top teams in goals by defencemen.
Barrie has been a major facilitator, with 10 assists in the last 11 games. After recording just two points in his first eight games as an Oiler, the offseason addition now has 16 points in 20 games this season and is looking increasingly at home with his new team.
In Edmonton’s first three wins, the deciding goal came off the stick of Draisaitl twice, while McDavid scored the other. Since then, Barrie, Khaira, Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Ennis and Gaetan Haas have all notched game-winners. The Oilers have posted Ws in both of the last two games that Draisaitl and McDavid had zero points combined.
None of this is to downplay McDavid and Draisaitl. This is, after all, the top two scorers in the Art Ross Trophy race we’re talking about here. And the Oilers are 9-4 when Draisaitl and/or McDavid scores; they’re 3-4 when both are held without a goal.
Likewise, the fate of the 2021 Oilers is dependent on more than Nos. 29 and 97.