CON­NOR & CO.

This Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers team is start­ing to look like more than just Mcdavid

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI rty­[email protected]­media.com @SUN_TYCHKOWSKI

NEW YORK — The Oil­ers had just ex­tended their win­ning streak to a perfect 4-0 af­ter beat­ing New Jer­sey in a shootout Thurs­day and third-pe­riod hero Con­nor Mcdavid came out to ful­fil his du­ties with the media.

But when he walked into the dress­ing room, the re­porters were all tied up with other an­gles.

Goal­tender Mikko Kosk­i­nen had just turned in a stel­lar per­for­mance to go 2-0.

James Neal ex­tended his scor­ing streak to three games and seven goals.

Leon Drai­saitl played 25:41 and scored a goal for his eighth point of the sea­son.

And rookie de­fence­man Ethan Bear logged a ca­reer­high 23:52 on the first pair.

Two nights ear­lier, af­ter the win on Long Is­land, no­body even asked for the cap­tain be­cause there were game changers every­where you turned: Neal had four goals, Zack Kas­sian scored for the third straight game, Drai­saitl had two as­sists, the penalty killing was perfect. And Kosk­i­nen stopped 25 of 27 shots.

This is a wel­come change in Ed­mon­ton, where the Oil­ers are start­ing to win on nights when Mcdavid doesn’t have to be the sin­gle big­gest rea­son why.

He’s still playing ex­cep­tion­ally well (nine points in three games lifted him to the top of the scor­ing race), but as more and more con­trib­u­tors emerge from else­where in the lineup, the media-averse cap­tain is en­joy­ing more time away from the post-game spot­light.

And that’s great by him on all fronts.

“He’s a re­ally good team player,” said head coach Dave Tip­pett.

“He takes that re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a top player, but he also rec­og­nizes the need for the rest of the team to be a team and do their part if we’re go­ing to be a win­ning team.

“His tal­ent is phe­nom­e­nal, but it’s his con­cept of want­ing to win as a group rather than car­ry­ing the whole load on his shoul­ders (that is most im­pres­sive).”

When he says he’d trade an Art Ross for a play­off berth, he means it. That isn’t to say he can’t have both, but there is no dis­put­ing where the pri­or­ity lies.

“It’s easy to watch the high­lights and see he’s scor­ing or set­ting up these un­be­liev­able goals,” said Tip­pett. “But when you get in the trenches with him, he’s fig­ur­ing out how to win, how a team needs to win and how to lead a team.”

In­stead of be­ing front and cen­tre all the time be­cause he ei­ther just car­ried the Oil­ers to vic­tory or, as cap­tain, it was his re­spon­si­bil­ity to dis­sect a de­feat, he can now talk about the bal­ance and suc­cess he sees creep­ing into the lineup.

“You need depth all over, and we’ve been find­ing some scor­ing and some re­li­a­bil­ity on those other lines,” said the cap­tain, adding that’s what he likes most about the Oil­ers red-hot start.

“There’s a lot of good stuff. When you’re 4-0 there’s a lot of pos­i­tive stuff go­ing on. We’re find­ing dif­fer­ent ways to win.”

Af­ter what’s gone on here the last two years, and in the decade of bar­ren waste­land be­fore he got here, this is an es­pe­cially re­fresh­ing time for the hockey team.

“When you’re 4-0, it helps,” he said. “There are lots of peo­ple who wait around for bad stuff to hap­pen for our team, fans, media, what­ever, so it’s good that we proved a cou­ple of peo­ple wrong early, but there’s lots and lots of work left to do.”

The goals are still con­cen­trated in the lineup (15 of Ed­mon­ton’s 17 this year have come from four play­ers), but Tip­pett says the help is com­ing on other fronts, like the penalty kill, like puck pos­ses­sion that leads to power plays, like the bot­tom six not rou­tinely putting the team in a deficit, like young de­fence­men playing like vet­er­ans, like ev­ery­one buy­ing into the pro­gram.

“They haven’t scored a lot, but they re­ally so­lid­i­fied our bot­tom end with some strong penalty killing,” said Tip­pett. “As much as we want depth scor­ing, it’s play­ers con­tribut­ing with­out get­ting on the score­board that has helped us.”

And it’s a big rea­son why they’re 4-0 head­ing into Madi­son Square Gar­den on Satur­day.

“We need ev­ery­body to con­trib­ute,” said Tip­pett. “Ob­vi­ously there are some peo­ple who get a lot more ac­co­lades than oth­ers, that’s just the way it is, but you don’t win cham­pi­onships, you don’t win on a con­sis­tent ba­sis un­less you play like a team. Hockey is one of the ul­ti­mate team sports and un­less you play like a group you’re not go­ing to win.”

You need depth all over, and we’ve been find­ing some scor­ing and some re­li­a­bil­ity on those other lines.”

Oil­ers su­per­star Con­nor McDavid

KATHY WIL­LENS/AP

Oil­ers winger James Neal (right) cel­e­brates a re­cent goal with Con­nor Mcdavid.

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