The Winnipeg Jets recite the message about restricting Connor McDavid’s time and space prior to each contest with the Edmonton Oilers.
Talk is cheap. And the Oilers’ mega-star made them pay.
McDavid single-handedly annihilated the slumping Jets on Monday night, firing a hat-trick and chipping in an assist in a 6-1 slaughter in downtown Winnipeg.
The Oilers (28-16-2) vaulted over the Jets (27-18-3) and into second place in the North Division, seven points back of the idle Toronto Maple Leafs.
Winnipeg is just 2-6 against Edmonton and has dropped the last five battles.
Jets centre Paul Stastny balked at the suggestion the Oilers now have the upper hand on the Jets at a key time in the season.
"I don’t think it’s a mental edge. Some games they take it to us, some games we play better, some games have been really close. That’s where we look at it. Like I said, I think when we’re playing our best, it’s not who we’re playing against, it’s what we’re doing," said Stastny.
It’s a safe bet Edmonton and Winnipeg will meet to begin post-season play in the all-Canadian division.
The Jets are spiralling downward at a time when they should be girding for the upcoming postseason, losing four straight games — twice to Edmonton and twice to the Toronto Maples Leafs.
Both are teams they now trail in the North Division, teams the Jets will, ultimately, need to manoeuvre through in the NHL playoffs.
Managing McDavid in Wednesday night’s rematch would be an appropriate place to start.
"I’ve said this before, we want to dictate what we want to do. We’ve got be aware when McDavid’s out there or (Leon) Draisaitl’s out there. Obviously, those guys are world-class players that only need one chance to score a goal," added Stastny. "If we have to sacrifice some offence to help out our defence, sometimes you have to.
"What did they have? A breakaway goal, a couple two-on-one goals, a lot of odd-man rushes. You’re going to give them up, which is fine. I think we gotta get back, we gotta help out our (defence). Our forwards have to get back. When we do get back, collapse to the net, keep things to the outside and we’ll make it a lot tougher to get scored on. And that’s got to be the mindset."
At every turn, the incomparable No. 97 had possession of the puck and was afforded scads of room to do everything he set his mind to, with little to no resistance.
He raced away on three full or partial breakaways and was also in on a number of odd-man rushes, enjoying absolute freedom to accelerate through the neutral zone. It was a parting of the navy sea each time he was on the move.
Edmonton led 2-0 and 6-1 at the period breaks.
McDavid scored his 26th tally in the first period on Connor Hellebuyck and added his 27th and 28th in the second. Alex Chiasson, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse also beat Hellebuyck, who was replaced by Laurent Brossoit in the final period with Winnipeg trailing by five.
Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp said things really went off the rails in the second period.
"It felt like we just gave them too many odd-man rushes and when there’s a team that’s as dangerous as them, they’re going to capitalize," said Copp, before providing a solution that’s easier said than done against the explosive McDavid and his cohorts.
"Not turn the puck over, I guess. It comes to not turning the puck over and it comes to back pressure and our gap. So, I’ve said to you guys, the game’s cyclical so if one is off, it kind of leads to the others being off," added. "They’re just taking advantage of turnovers, and even if it’s in the (Edmonton) zone it feels like they’re ready to go play offence after a 45-second shift, so we’ve got to be aware of that."
Mark Scheifele scored his 19th goal with about five minutes left in the middle frame, snapping a drought of 94 minutes, 27 seconds since Nikolaj Ehlers scored Winnipeg’s last goal (in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs).
Scheifele now has 199 career tallies and the 499 points, so Wednesday might be a night of milestones for Winnipeg’s top centre.
Meanwhile, McDavid is the runaway points leader (81) and will collect a third career Art Ross Trophy, his first since 2018.
One of the Jets should be assigned the responsibility of handing him the hardware. The 24-year-old centre has feasted on them, amassing 19 points in eight games (all multi-point outings) during the abbreviated 2021 NHL season.
Perhaps, we ain’t seen nothing, yet.
His Monday masterpiece was produced in the opener of a two-game set in Winnipeg. The squads meet again Wednesday at 8 p.m., their final regular-season outing.
"I think our team just seems to play well against them. We know it’s going to be a tough game every time we play them," said McDavid, offering no specific theory on the Oilers’ string of success. "They have some of the best forwards around the league and their goaltender is coming off a Vezina season, so they’re as good a team as you’re going to find.
"We come in and we’re prepared for a great game each and every time, and we seem to play them hard. So, I think it starts with the whole group."
All signs pointed to a possible mess for the Jets, and that’s precisely what materialized. The flashy Ehlers and effective two-way centre Adam Lowry were missing due to injury, requiring head coach Paul Maurice to alter his roster.
Winnipeg’s bench boss said unfamiliarity between linemates wasn’t a factor in the mismatch.
"This would be fundamental. It would not be the line structure, a chemistry issue with the lines that were completely changed here. The decision process with the puck wasn’t based on the combinations," Maurice said.
"What we had done well — and again, it’s a different game that’s played at the start — but we had given up the first goal quite often early in the year and won an awful lot of those games by not changing. I felt that, in these games that we’ve been behind in recently we’ve just opened our game up. Certainly, against the offence that the last two teams we’ve played have had, you just can’t do it."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).