McDavid’s hat trick leads Oilers past Flames
EDMONTON, Alberta — Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid and Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith played a game of cat and mouse all night long Wednesday.
Smith, an All-Star netminder who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes in the offseason, extended his pad to stuff a breakaway chance from the reigning NHL Most Valuable Player less than a minute into the game.
McDavid kept coming, though, scoring twice on Smith and adding an empty-netter for the hat trick, as the Oilers won their season opener 3-0 over the rival Flames at Rogers Place.
“It’s a good way to start, I guess,” McDavid said. “It feels good tonight, but we have a long way to go here. We were able to create some chances. Everybody was making a big deal about Calgary’s defense, but it was our defense that was great tonight. They were moving pucks up to the forwards so we could do what we get paid to do.”
McDavid led the league with 100 points last season, and Oilers goalie Cam Talbot led the league in saves.
Both picked up exactly where they left off. While McDavid provided the offense, Talbot made 26 saves to record the shutout.
McDavid brought the capacity crowd to its feet at 11:01 of the first period after the Oilers’ top line held the puck in the Flames’ zone for almost a minute. Leon Draisaitl’s pass deflected right to McDavid, who fired a shot into the open side of the net.
The Oilers launched 16 shots at Smith in the first period, but Smith kept his team from getting buried early. On top of stopping the McDavid breakaway, he also got down low to deny an excellent chance from Mark Letestu.
Smith admitted that staring down a McDavid breakaway chance less than a minute after the new season began wasn’t an ideal way to kick off the campaign.
“Not the feeler I wanted to start with,” Smith said. “That’s the type of player he is. When he has space and time, he can wind it up and create some pretty unique scoring chances. Obviously, it was nice to kind of get my game going there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep him off the board the rest of the night.”
Smith had his mask knocked off his face by a slap shot from Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom in the second period. Smith went on to save 42 shots on the night, and he gave Flames fans a glimmer of hope that the inconsistent goaltending that led to their first-round playoff demise last season has been addressed.
However, at 8:07 of the third, McDavid blew past Flames defensemen Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie, cut toward the net and threw the puck up over Smith’s shoulder.
“It’s what he does,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said of McDavid. “He doesn’t go from first to second to third to fourth gear. He just goes from first to fourth and he’s gone. He was fresh, and I think they had pieces of their fourth line out, so he was able to take advantage of it.
“What was impressive about that goal was that the puck rolled all the way down the ice and he was still able to knock it down when he needed to and then put it in a little hole. A hell of a night by him and a good night by everybody around him.”
The Flames, who played an ultra-conservative 1-2-2 game, couldn’t get their legs for a late-game push. They fired only five shots at Talbot in the third period, and none would have been considered a premium scoring chance.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better team game from this group in a long time,” Talbot said. “Give our guys credit; they didn’t make me do a whole lot tonight.”
McDavid scored an empty-netter with 59 seconds left to trigger an avalanche of hats from the crowd.
While McDavid got all three goals, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said his team was dominated by all four Oilers lines.
“He had the goals, but it wasn’t just about him. They beat us in almost every department,” Gulutzan said. “They won the battles on the wall. They were clean on their breakouts. They made plays. They threw pucks to the net. I thought their team was all-around better than us tonight. We have got to (do) better.”
NOTES: This marks the second straight season the Flames opened at Rogers Place. Last season, Edmonton won the curtain-raiser by a 7-4 count. ... The Flames last beat the Oilers on April 2, 2016. ... RW Jaromir Jagr, the NHL’s No. 2 all-time scorer with 1,914 points, was in Calgary on Wednesday, and he was introduced as the newest member of the Flames. The 45-year-old just signed a one-year deal and was not available for the opener. ... The Oilers scratched RW Iiro Pakarinen and D Yohann Auvitu. ... The Flames scratched C Curtis Lazar, C Freddie Hamilton and D Brett Kulak.