In their first game at the start of the month, the rivalry hockey fans hoped for between young stars Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid failed to unfold.
They tried again on Tuesday night with better results. The first goal was a beauty for Matthews, and the rookie’s 10th. McDavid’s 11th of the season in the third period came on a wild rush to the net through a handful of scrambling Leafs. But the night was won 4-2 by the Maple Leafs, who didn’t falter in the third period and got only their second victory on the road this season.
More than a rivalry between the two most recent top draft picks, the matchup between these two young teams, both at the bottom of the standings last year and both stocked with young talent, has developed into something fiesty and entertaining over the month of November.
“They have a good, young team with a bright future,” Morgan Rielly, the Toronto defenceman, said outside the dressing room afterward. “We feel that way as well.
“When you play teams like Edmonton with the amount of speed they have and the amount of skill they have, I think it's important we have our legs under us, we're skating and we're keeping up with them. I think that was a big part of what happened tonight.”
The Leafs chased Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot from the game after he gave up four goals on 14 shots in two periods. At the other end, Leafs goaltender Frederick Andersen, terrific over the last six games, stopped 28 shots and kept the Oilers off the scoreboard during nearly nine minutes on the power play.
And then there was Nazem Kadri. Again.
The Maple Leafs centreman wasn’t as physical with McDavid as the first time they played at Air Canada Centre, but he, along with Matthews, kept the Oilers star fairly well shadowed. Kadri pushed McDavid around, and went to the penalty box for it once, but kept the NHL scoring leader from registering a shot until the third period.
“I love playing against the best players,” Kadri said. “I don’t know whether I am more focused, but those are the people I want to measure myself against.”
Kadri scored his 10th goal in the second to put the Leafs ahead, 3-1. That’s one side of Kadri. Then there is another. Later in the period, he lost his cool and charged and slashed Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson, and sat out four minutes. Another Leafs penalty gave the Oilers 65 seconds with a two-man advantage. Andersen stopped shot after shot.
On Nov. 1 when the Oilers played in Toronto, the buildup was headier than the night itself. Neither McDavid nor Matthews made the scoresheet. Kadri shadowed McDavid step for step, stayed ahead of him, and cut off his chances to get to the net. When the game went to overtime, Kadri stole the puck and scored the winning goal 12 seconds in, then shoved McDavid into the boards for emphasis as the Leafs celebrated.
Head coach Todd McLellan brushed it off, but fans have fumed over Kadri’s rough treatment of McDavid ever since. Even Don Cherry took offence, saying on Coaches’ Corner: “There’s no way he [Kadri] should have been permitted to do what he did. There’s no way you do that to McDavid.” Some comeuppance in the rematch was expected. No such luck.
Before the game, most of the buzz was about the two top draft picks, but other themes emerged: Kadri verus McDavid, that the slight Leafs rookie centre Mitch Marner, with 18 points in 21 games coming into last night, has been better than Matthews and more exciting to watch.
And yet Matthews and McDavid entertained.
Early in the first period, McDavid jumped ahead of Matthews and the Leafs centre hooked his stick around McDavid’s legs. The Oiler went down, and Matthews went to the penalty box for the first time this season. Two minutes later, as the power play ended, Matthews perched at the Oilers goal crease, corralled a crisp pass from William Nylander and tapped the puck behind Talbot for his 10th goal.
“It was spot on,” Matthews said of the pass. “It couldn’t have been better. It was a laser.”
Late in the first period, McDavid sprinted for the puck near the Leafs net. Kadri nearly tipped him over and was called for interference. McDavid’s linemate Milan Lucic shouted at Kadri. Mike Babcock shouted at the referee. The Oilers had a power play, but couldn’t do anything with it for all of the shouting.
Leafs James Van Reimsdyk scored early in the second period, and Oilers defenceman Andrej Sekera added a goal for the home side, with an assist from McDavid, not long after. Kadri made it 3-1 a little more than a minute later. Zach Hyman finished the scoring for the Leafs, now 10-8-4. They have won two straight.
The triumph was the first for Toronto on the road since Nov. 3 in Buffalo. The loss was the third in a row for the Oilers. It has not been a pretty stretch. Their other two defeats were to awful Arizona.
McDavid now leads the league with 31 points. He has 12 points, including six goals, in his last six games. The last Edmonton Oiler to lead the NHL in scoring was Wayne Gretzky in 1987. The Oilers have scored 69 goals so far this season, and McDavid has either scored or been in on 31.
“You want to defuse him, but it’s pretty tough,” Rielly said of McDavid. “With a player as good as he is, he is going to get his chances.”
Matthews opened his NHL career with four goals on the first night of the season, then cooled, but recently rediscovered his scoring touch. He has four goals in his last three games.
There is little debate as to the three best players in the NHL, but only one of these two make the list. Penguins star Sidney Crosby is scoring at a goal-a-game pace. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has never looked better. And McDavid looks as if he is about to run away with a scoring lead. A quarter of the way into the season, they are candidates for the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player.
But on a Tuesday night in November, it was a win for the Leafs and a loss for the Oilers. There will be more of each for both.
The Maple Leafs continue their road trip in Calgary on Wednesday. Edmonton’s next game is on Thursday in Winnipeg.Report Typo/Error
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