WINNIPEG — Connor McDavid is capable of changing a Stanley Cup Playoffs series on his own, and Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said his team can’t do anything to make things easier for the Edmonton Oilers forward.
“You’re not stopping this guy completely,” Maurice said Sunday. “If you just do it right, if you just play the right way against Connor McDavid, he’s still putting up points against you. He’s that level of talent. You just can’t help him. He’s going to get them on his own. You just can’t help him do it.”
The Jets, the No. 3 seed in the Scotia North Division, will play at the No. 2 Oilers in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
McDavid led the NHL with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) in 56 games this season, including 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in nine games against the Jets. The Oilers won seven of those games (7-2-0).
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Winnipeg’s challenge will be awareness when McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl are on the ice. Draisaitl was second in the NHL with 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists) in 56 games. Draisaitl scored 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in nine games against the Jets.
“You have to be cognizant when two of the best, if not the best players in the League, are on the ice at the same time,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler said. “But at the end of the day, we can’t play five guys in front of the net and not try to play hockey. … There’s no secret they’ve had some success against us. We’ve had a tough time, but that’s in the past.
“What adjustments do we need to make? I’m certainly not going to tell you any adjustments we’re going to make. I think that there are some areas we can definitely be better and we’re going to give it our all, see what happens.”
Maurice also declined to reveal any special strategy and acknowledged that though the matchup against McDavid and Draisaitl has its challenges, there are other elements to the Oilers.
“Those were the finishers in a lot of those plays, those were the guys that put them over the tipping point in those tight games,” Maurice said. “You’re not eliminating them from the series. The rest of their hockey club’s pretty committed to playing a hard defensive game.
“They’re not going to give you a lot of easy offense. I think those two men draw so much attention and so much of the focus that you think, ‘This is how the Edmonton Oilers play.’ … But the rest of that group, and them included, they’re not cheating the game defensively anymore. They’ve got a whole bunch of guys that are pretty darned good grinders that are pretty committed to that part of the game.”
Substantial responsibility against McDavid and Draisaitl likely will fall to the Winnipeg defense pair of Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo, though without the last change, Maurice won’t have control of many of those situations in Game 1 or Game 2 in Edmonton on Friday.
DeMelo said it will be important for the Jets to defend as five skaters, not one or two, when it comes to checking the Oilers’ scoring leaders.
“You need that fill from the forwards in order to be aggressive,” DeMelo said. “We need to have that safety valve in case a puck gets by you. You need to have a guy there. It has to be strategic. It can’t just be reckless and running around. We have to pick our spots and I think it’s going to be really important in this series.
“Connor and Leon get a lot of speed generated through that middle of the ice and a lot of it is from their own [defensive] zone. Our pinches need to be bang-on and our fills need to be really good and we’ve got to take away time and space. So we need to keep that aggressiveness, but we need to be smart with it.”