Despite the daunting task of attempting to shut down the player who tore a hole through Winnipeg’s net this season, the Jets once again say they are ready to battle the league’s soon-to-be Hart Trophy victor.
“You want to frustrate them, you want to force them to bend, you want to create some chances,” centreman Adam Lowry said on Monday afternoon. “If you can chip in offensively, that’s huge. The chances of him getting on the board in the game are pretty high, the way he and Leon have played this year. It’s about just trying to advance the puck, making smart plays. It’s more about being on the right side; you’re not cheating for that offence.”
In his nine total contests against the Jets this year, the Oilers’ captain put up seven goals and 22 points, while accumulating four points on one occasion, three points twice and two points six different times. He did not have a game with one or less points against Winnipeg this season.
“I mean, he had 105 points, so if I could shut him down and he has zero in the game, I think that really, really bodes well for our chances,” Lowry laughed. “You’ve got to take away his speed, you got to take away his transition game, you got to get into his hands, get into his feet and don’t allow him to kind of open up the speed. He doesn’t need a lot of space for that.”
Yes, he did put up 105 points in just a 56-game shortened season. Operating at a 2.41 point-per-game pace through his final 17 games of the season, McDavid was able to break the 100-point barrier, accumulating 41 total points in that final push.
“Connor, first of all, proved how fantastic a player he is this year,” fellow Jets centreman Mark Scheifele said. “He really stepped up his game and it was impressive to watch. I’m a big fan of his. He’s a fantastic hockey player and he’s the best player in our game right now.”
But all words of praise aside, Scheifele knows that in order to be considered among the best, he has to be able to hang with the best. And right now, the best is No. 97 on the Oilers.
“Those guys, they motivate you to be better,” Scheifele added. “They motivate you to work on your game even more. They motivate you to be at your best every single game, so then you put the magnification of Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line, it amplifies it even more. I’m definitely very excited for the opportunity and excited for the challenge, and I know those guys are, as well. It’s fun to play against the best. Both those guys prove day in and day out how they’re the best players in the world, and you have to be at your best every single shift against them or they’re going to make you pay.”
Clearly the best player around right now, McDavid may even be amongst the greatest players of all time. According to Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice, that is definitely possible.
“Those numbers for this NHL are incredible, right?” Maurice said. “And then Mr. Gretzky had 50 goals in 39 games, right? When you take a look at these multiple point games, yeah, I mean it’s incredible, but Wayne Gretzky‘s like here. So being that I’ve seen those guys, he’s in that group of players that I got to watch where it’s just so much different than everybody else… This guy is different than all other players. And that uniqueness will say he’s part of that group of the greatest of all time. We can only say that we’d have to wait until the end, I think, to know the answer.”
Shutting down Edmonton’s potent offence will also fall on the shoulders of Winnipeg’s No. 1 defenceman Josh Morrissey.
“Obviously they’re two amazing players,” the 26-year-old blueliner said of McDavid and Draisaitl. “They just had phenomenal seasons. They’re a huge part of the Edmonton Oilers. We’re excited to have the opportunity to go in and try to play our best. I think we’re going to need to bring out best game. We’re focused as a group, as a team, trying to bring out best game. I think we made a lot of strides as a five-man unit, including our goaltender, in our defensive game the last few weeks. So we’re going to have to be at our best in order to play well against this team.”
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After winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender last season, Connor Hellebuyck has recently re-found his game after a tough end to the month of March and continued struggles in early May. But with a Vezina out of the picture for 2020-21, the Jets’ backstop has his eyes on a very different prize.
“Honestly, it’s all that I think about,” he said when asked about winning the Stanley Cup. “It’s all I’ve got left to go for. Being with this group of guys, the way that we’ve grown together the last couple of years, there’s no better team that I would want to celebrate this with. I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I’m really excited for it because once you get to the end of it, you can look back and really cherish all of those hard games, those tiny moments that don’t seem like much at the time but are big moments. I’m looking forward to those tiny, big moments.”
In order to beat Edmonton, Hellebuyck will certainly need to be 100 percent on his game. Considering his playoff experience, the possibility for success against the Oilers is certainly there. And look no further than the team’s leadership group for reassurance.
“Helly’s a very confident guy, he’s always been a confident guy,” Morrissey said. “From the first day I met him, he just has that confident presence which I think is such a great thing to have in your goaltender. It just sort of radiates out to the team. Love to hear that from him. Love to see that confidence level that he always has.”
Captain Blake Wheeler, who has 52 games of playoff experience to his name, also did not mince words when it came to the opportunity Hellebuyck gives his running mates.
“He gives us a chance every night,” Wheeler said of his backstop. “That’s kind of been our M.O. here the last handful of years, regardless of how bad we could throw a stinker out there, we’ve got a chance with No. 37 in the net. So that’s where our confidence starts. He’s a very confident guy in his game and he gives us a ton of confidence back there.”