May 27th, 2024

How do you stop a player like McDavid? By committee, Canucks say

By Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press on May 9, 2024.

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid, right, checks Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser as Edmonton's Mattias Janmark, back left, watches during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks accomplished a first on Wednesday — they prevented Connor McDavid from getting a shot on net.

It was the first time in 55 career playoff games the superstar has failed to register a shot.

The milestone came in a game where the Canucks mounted a dramatic third-period comeback before securing a 5-4 win in Game 1 of the second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

Corralling McDavid takes an entire team, said Vancouver captain Quinn Hughes.

“We just did a good job as a five-man unit and everyone knew what they’re doing and no one was off script,” the defenceman said after the victory. “And when everyone is on the same page, it makes it easier to defend a special player like that. So we watched a lot of film and we’ve just got to keep doing that.”

McDavid contributed a secondary assist on Zach Hyman’s second-period goal Wednesday and has points in all six of Edmonton’s playoff games this year. He leads the league in post-season scoring with one goal and 12 assists.

Over six post-season runs, the elite centre has amassed 30 goals and 58 assists.

The Canucks know just how dangerous McDavid can be, said blue liner Nikita Zadorov.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, so you’re trying to limit his space and take away the scoring chances for him for sure,” he said Wednesday.

“We’ve been talking for a few days about our defensive structure, how we want to play against those guys. That’s our game.”

The Oilers are good at finding open ice where they can gather speed, and the Canucks limited that in Game 1, said defenceman Carson Soucy, who was often out against McDavid.

“I think our forwards all night just did a good job of kind of being in front of them while they’re trying to wind up their speed,” he said Thursday.

“And then in the d-zone, I think we did a good job of closing when we could, giving them their space, just kind of limit that extra breakdown.”

Shutting down McDavid was a strength for Vancouver during the regular season. In three games against the Canucks, the Hart Trophy nominee was limited to one goal and two assists, and had a -4 plus-minus rating.

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet said he doesn’t put much stock in those numbers.

“This guy’s, he’s the best. He’s probably going to be the best ever,” he said Thursday. “You gotta remember we got (the Oilers) early start the year when things weren’t great for them. And he never played the last game. … I don’t know if we have any magic against him.”

One key to keeping skilled players off the scoresheet is to skate forward on defence, the coach added.

“I don’t like backwards skating and I think that helps us defend better,” he said. “We preach that all year.”

Vancouver isn’t expecting the exact same tactics to work for the rest of the best-of-seven series, however, Tocchet said.

They’ll have to find other ways to limit McDavid’s opportunities heading into Game 2 in Vancouver on Friday.

“It’s one game at a time,” he said after Game 1. “You make adjustments, both sides will make adjustments. All year, we’ve been a good defending team. And I think we have something to fall back on if things don’t go our way. That’s our foundation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2024.

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