Connor McDavid managed two assists in the Oilers' home opener against the Bruins, beating the visitors 3-2, marking the start of a rather unusual season for Edmonton.
For starters, the win finally put the team past the .500 mark for the first time in the regular season. To do it in front of a local crowd at Rogers Place must have been as auspicious as the victory itself, with the Oilers being the final team to host a regular season game. They endured their first four games on the road, including a loss to the New Jersey Devils in Sweden, having survived the junket on both sides of the pond with a 2-2 track record.
But now, that the Oilers are on more familiar turf, they now have to worry about depth in terms of offense. If not for Connor McDavid, who managed two assists against the Bruins in their latest victory, the Oilers would still be searching for their first win.
So far, McDavid has had a hand in 11 of 13 goals scored by the Oilers, having either assisted or shot pucks over the red line. After losing to the Devils 5-2 and the Bruins 4-1 in their first two games, McDavid's contribution to their current streak has been critical. He nabbed an assist and the winning goal in overtime over the Rangers and garnered four points (two goals and an assist) in the Oiler's 5-4 win over the Jets.
The big question is when the rest of the squad will step up and take some pressure off the 21-year-old captain, arguably the best player in the NHL today.
It's an easy cop-out to claim that the situation is similar to what the team experienced back in the 1980s when they won an armful of Stanley Cups. One could legitimately claim that much of those triumphs were attributable to Wayne Gretzky, the best hockey player in the world at the time. Without him, the Oilers probably wouldn't have won four league championships.
But, while Gretzky still remains as the all-time points leader in the NHL, those accomplishments would not have been possible with some strong support from players like Jari Kurri, who actually scored more goals than Gretzky when they shared the same shifts. There were also superlative performances from the likes of Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, and especially Marc Messier who helped Edmonton win their last Stanley Cup in 1990 — two years after Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings
McDavid isn't just on top of the team leaderboard, he totally dominates it, credited with four goals so far, as well as seven assists. His performance is much to the detriment of other players who should be doing better, although second and third spots respectively are taken by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with two goals and five assists, followed by Leon Draisadl with two goals and four assists.
But considering that McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins play on the same first line with Ty Rattie (with one goal and one assist), that shift alone has been responsible for more than half of the scoring output. The second line with Dreisadl, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Tobias Reider (playing in place of an injured Drake Caggiula) have contributed less than a quarter of team goals thus far. The third line led by Milan Lucic has two goals, followed by a goose egg for the team's fourth line.
Fortunately, it helps that Edmonton's defense, which has been pointed out by pundits as lacking depth, is stepping up, as Darnell Nurse so far has been a positive factor — and the defenseman to have a goal so far. It's also helped that goaltender Cam Talbot continues to be solid this season with a .906 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.69. Not great, but certainly reliable.
At this writing, there are nine players on the active roster that still have yet to register an assist or goal, as if coasting on the results of McDavid, whose average ice time is roughly less than 24 minutes, more than any other forward in the league. He certainly has age on his side to absorb a lot of the workload, although no doubt fans are still waiting for the likes of Reider, Ryan Strome, Kyle Brodziak, and Zack Kassian to show up.
Let's hope it's soon, given that the Oilers will hardly be taking on any slouches in their schedule anytime soon. The face the Predators on Sunday and the short-term schedule is just as grueling. Facing Pittsburgh, Washington and Minnesota—all of whom did well in the playoffs and show no signs of slowing down—will be a true test for the Oilers, unless they can take at least a few degrees of heat off McDavid.