April 18th, 2024

McDavid fired up for challenge as MacKinnon and Avalanche roll into Edmonton

By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on March 15, 2024.

Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (97) skates during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 9, 2024, in Buffalo, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeffrey T. Barnes

EDMONTON – For Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, there’s a little something extra riding on Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Nathan MacKinnon, the NHL scoring leader, is going to be in Edmonton. And he’s on a heater – MacKinnon has amassed 10 goals and 20 assists over the course of his 14-game point streak,

“I’m always motivated to go up against the league’s best, and he would certainly fall under that category,” McDavid said of MacKinnon.

“Actually, a bunch of them would – (Mikko) Rantanen, (Cale) Makar, (Devon) Toews. They’ve got an elite group over there, and I love testing myself against those types of guys.”

For the better part of the last decade, McDavid and MacKinnon have been central to the debate over who is the best overall player in the game. McDavid has three Hart Trophies. MacKinnon has yet to capture the MVP, but he has an even greater prize – a Stanley Cup ring.

But, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Nikita Zadorov turned some heads when he broke the humble-NHLer stereotype by declaring MacKinnon the best player in the world and the guy he’d want to build a team around.

“Because he’s a winner,” Zadorov told reporters Wednesday. “He won the Stanley Cup.”

MacKinnon had a goal and an assist Wednesday as the Avs came back from a 3-0 deficit to clip the Canucks 4-3 in overtime.

MacKinnon leads the NHL with 115 points. McDavid, who has won three straight scoring titles, and five out of the last seven seasons, is in third with 106.

“He’s just so powerful,” McDavid said of MacKinnon. “He skates so well, he’s big and strong and assertive.”

The Avalanche (42-20-5) and Oilers (40-21-3), two of the favourites to win the Western Conference, have yet to face each other this season. After Saturday’s game, the Avs will visit Edmonton again on April 5, and then host the Oilers on the final day of the season, April 18.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said McDavid. “Of course, these guys are as good as anyone in the league. It’s good to test where your team’s at and where your game’s at against one of the league’s best.”

“En route to winning the 2022 Stanley Cup, the Avalanche dispatched the Oilers in four consecutive games during the Western Conference finals, with the series-clinching victory coming at Rogers Place.

MacKinnon’s confidence was on full display in the series.

Game 4 went to overtime, ending on a goal by Artturi Lehkonen. The play was reviewed for a possible high stick, but the marker stood.

After the game, MacKinnon said of the review: “At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered, we would have kept going and got the win.”

There was a swagger about him – and the Oilers still talk about that playoff series as a lesson learned.

“We went into that series with lots of hope, and we came out of it saying we had a lot of work to do as a team, to compete with teams like that on a nightly basis,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. “I think we’ve matured a lot, in the sense that no matter the situation, we’re not trying to force games, force offence. I think that’s been the growth point of our season so far, this year.”

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said McDavid and MacKinnon are similar in the fact that they rarely see teams that treat a game against them like another day at the office. Despite having to face teams that are always up to play against the best, they still manage to put up big numbers.

And going into Saturday, Knoblauch knows there’s no way to stop MacKinnon, especially with the tear he’s been on.

“Whether that’s matchups or systems, if we’re going to have success, we need to limit the opportunities he has,” said Knoblauch. “We’re not going to shut him down completely, he’s going to get chances because he is a really good hockey player.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.

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