Connor McDavid is such a star and such a remarkable scoring threat that, on Saturday afternoon at the Garden, the Rangers were constantly wary about him while they had the puck at the other end of the ice.
“You really don’t want to make ‘hope’ plays when he’s out there because that’s where his transition game starts and that’s where the trouble begins,” David Quinn said after his team lost to the Oilers, 2-1. McDavid scored the winning goal and assisted on the other, meaning that he has had a point in each of the five goals his team has scored this season.
Although there has been talk around Toronto lately that Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs has surpassed McDavid (and Sidney Crosby), the consensus before the season was that McDavid is the top player in the National Hockey League. And that offers a cautionary lesson to anyone who believes that all you have to do to get your team in contention is be bad enough to get the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Three times this decade, the Oilers have had the first choice, including McDavid in 2015, and still they have made the playoffs only once since 2006. They also picked third and fourth overall in 2014 and 2016, respectively. No wonder that a concerned owner, Daryl Katz, was in New York to watch his previously winless team in person.
No wonder the Oilers were so happy about getting the victory. “I thought we did a great job, finally getting a win in a tough building,” McDavid said. “We need to move on from that.”
They have a solid respect for how tough the league is, and how hard it is to climb, as the Oilers and Rangers are trying to do with youth-oriented rosters. McDavid said, “We’ve only scored five goals in three games. When offense isn’t there, you need to check. You need to check for your wins. I thought we did a great job. That’s how you need to win games when the offense isn’t coming.”
It also helps to have goaltending that stops 23 of 24 shots, which former Ranger Cam Talbot did in gaining his first victory against his former team. “These games are always circled on the calendar for me,” Talbot said. “Now I’ve got this one out of the way, so it can go back to it just being another game.
“I think,” the goalie said, “that was a big two points for us.”
The points were hard earned against a team that actually played well against McDavid. As Rangers center Kevin Hayes said, “We stuck to our structure. They’ve got one of the best players in the world over there. I thought we did a pretty good job on him and he still got a goal and an assist. So kudos to him.”
Notes & quotes: Kevin Shattenkirk returned to the Rangers lineup after having been a healthy scratch and played well, in David Quinn’s opinion. “I thought it was a nice bounce-back effort by him. I thought he defended well, he skated more. It was definitely a step in the right direction,” the coach said…Ryan Spooner made his season debut, in 9:36 of ice time on a line with Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes…After a one-game trial at left wing, Pavel Buchnevich returned to right wing, skating with center Brett Howden, with Mats Zuccarello on the left wing… During the second period, GardenVision showed a display that said Henrik Lundqvist earned his first NHL victory exactly 13 years ago (a 4-1 win at the Garden over the Devils). As if on cue, moments later, he made a tough stop on Ryan Strome’s close-range rebound . . . Neil Pionk was a scratch for a second consecutive game, but Quinn indicated the defenseman is likely to be back in the lineup soon. “I liked the way some of the guys were playing. Shatty was going back in, I like [Fredrik] Claesson’s game. Pionk is going to play a lot of hockey for us. He and I have talked and I don’t want to reveal our lineup for the following game, but he’s a guy I like an awful lot. He’s going to play a lot for us.”