SEATTLE – Connor McDavid is one of those players in a generation who often seems to have everything on the board when he’s putting it all together.
McDavid is one of the most dangerous offensive players in NHL history. He has top-end pace that former coach Ken Hitchcock said reminded him of Pavel Bure. The way he thinks about the game, junior hockey GM Sherry Bassin said, gave him a two-second advantage over everyone else. He can do whatever he wants with the puck.
Or, at least, it was commonly seen that way throughout their careers.
McDavid has rarely shown these qualities this season. He surprised everyone – including himself. As a result, his confidence has taken a hit.
“He’s right up there with the rest of the team — not too high,” McDavid said.
McDavid’s unique skill set has helped him rack up 860 career points and is still more than two months shy of his 27th birthday. However, only 10 points have come this season.
For most players, 10 points in many games is considered optimal – even superior. McDavid is not most players. He’s on pace for 80-points, which would be his career low outside of his injury-shortened 2015-16 rookie campaign.
When it comes to production, McDavid’s drop in production came after he returned from missing two games with an upper body injury. McDavid returned in time for the Heritage Classic on Oct. 29 and recorded an assist in a 5-2 win over the Flames.
He has a single power-play assist in four games — all losses. The Rocket Richard winner had gone seven games without a goal before the injury and has scored just twice this season.
McDavid insists he is in “very good” health after returning to the lineup. As long as it’s not true, it rules out that underdog factor.
It seems to fly early in games and then taper off as they go on, starting with the Flames outdoors.
His 52.8 expected field goal percentage at five-on-five is third-worst among regulars, naturally. He’s ahead of only Derrick Ryan and Evander Kane, who are over 51 percent.
McDavid isn’t alone in the underachieving category, though.
Running mate Leon Draisaitl’s struggles are puzzling, especially since he hasn’t been sidelined. Five goals and 15 points in 12 games looks pretty good. He is on pace for 102 points. But the number of intercepted passes and one-time passengers was alarming.
Draisaitl has just one goal in nine games. Coming into this game, he has scored the most goals in the league in the last five seasons.
“That’s the way it goes,” Draisaitl said after Thursday’s loss in San Jose. “I’ve had weeks before where it just didn’t go my way. Since this is early in the year, it seems a little more difficult. But I’ve had bumps like this before; Every player in the league has had controversies like this before. I am not overly concerned. The goals will come and if they don’t you have to find different ways to score.
The Oilers’ crisis turns to embarrassment after being defeated by the Sharks.
McDavid and Draisaitl’s offensive woes are the main reason the Oilers are in this 2-9-1 mess, according to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyz, whose odds of making the playoffs are slightly better than a coin-flip.
“Everybody goes through struggles. We’re not different. We’re human. It’s been a long time since we’ve been through something like this,” McDavid said. “It’s not fun. It’s not fun to go through as a team.”
As the best power play offensive team in the NHL last season, the Oilers should have the firepower to handle McDavid’s struggles. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and Kane all scored 100 points.
They are not producing close to their potential. The futures below the range are not formed during the ice age changes. Nobody is playing well.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who feels good or confident in his game,” McDavid said. “How do you teach that? If I had that answer, I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey. I’d be a billionaire somewhere. It’s not easy. Confidence is a difficult thing.”
The Oilers are getting their chance, to be sure. They have 58 percent of their five-on-five shot attempts, second best by the Hurricanes entering Friday’s games. Their five-for-five shooting differential is seventh. Both teams are at full strength and creating offense.
“I liked the opportunities we had. “I like the control of the games we’ve had,” McDavid said. “There’s obviously something to clean up when you’re in a situation like this.”
Closing those opportunities is at the top of the list. The Oilers are shooting six percent at five-on-five as a team. That means they won 31-19 in that situation.
“The last five percent is the hardest part,” McDavid said. The last five percent separates the good players from the great players.
The first power play unit that was the only reason the Oilers made an NHL-record 32.4 percent of their chances last season, McDavid has one goal in five games since his return.
“We’ve seen penalty killers do different things,” McDavid said. “We’ve seen teams go to this triple kill, which has given a lot of power play headaches. We are forcing things. This happens when it’s not good.
“We need to get back to the basics of our power play. Our power play is a hard-working power play. He wins battles. He scores goals not necessarily in the most conventional ways. It comes from shooting spears and winning battles.
Much attention was paid to the Oilers’ formidable defense and league-high scoring output. that’s right.
But this once high-powered team isn’t scoring goals. They scored 3.96 goals per game last season but averaged 2.58 goals per game in 12 games. Entering Friday’s game, only three teams were below them. The Oilers have conceded two goals in their last three games. It has happened seven times this season.
“Getting to three goals looks like a challenge for us,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “If you can’t create scoring chances, you worry. For me, the finish could be improved. It’s not nearly as good. Completion is sometimes based on volume. We have to take care of other business first.
The Oilers need more of everyone in the lineup in every aspect. That is offensive.
It’s unthinkable to suggest a Hall of Fame resume that they both built, but the improvements need to start with McDavid and Draisaitl.
“I’m seeing two individuals giving us everything they’ve got,” Woodcroft said. “It didn’t go perfectly for them individually or for us as a team. They wear that because they are proud individuals. They are great leaders. Once our team gets going in the right direction, that will ease some of the burden.
(Photo: Eric Hartline / USA Today)