On the night Patrick Marleau made history, Connor McDavid offered yet a reminder that his shortened season may be history in the making.
McDavid scooped up a loose puck just inside the Edmonton Oilers’ blueline, fired up the jet packs and picked his way through two Canadiens defenders – including one (Jeff Petry) who will receive Norris Trophy votes this season – to break open a tied game with less than five minutes to play.
Another three-point third period? Yawn. That was McDavid’s league-leading 130th end-to-end rush, according to Sportlogiq, some 28 more than New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal, the NHL’s next closest player.
“I’m never really afraid to take on two defenders,” McDavid told reporters postgame. “It can get me into trouble sometimes … [but] I was able to get it in good stride and I was just trying to make a play.”
Yes, the greatness of hockey’s most highly evolved player is on display with such regularity that we’ve run out of superlatives to describe McDavid. Nights like Monday, when No. 97 takes a game over, have become routine.
But it would be wrong to sleep on McDavid’s season.
Because in a six-year career that already includes two scoring titles, two Ted Lindsay Awards and one Hart Trophy, the 2020-21 campaign is shaping up to be McDavid’s best.
There are plenty of numbers to support that claim.
McDavid has already set the mark for most points in a shortened season with 74 points in 44 games. Two Hall of Famers, Eric Lindros and Jaromir Jagr, set the previous high-water mark with 70 points in 48 games in 1994-95; Martin St. Louis notched just 60 in 48 games in 2012-13, the last lockout-shortened season.
McDavid is the first player since Mario Lemieux in 2000-01 to average at least 1.68 points per game over a season. Lemieux produced at a 1.78 points-per-game clip that year.
That gives McDavid an outside shot to hit triple digits in points. He would need 26 points over his final 12 games of the season to get there, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. McDavid already netted 25 in a 12-game span from Jan. 28 to Feb. 20 this season; he has two four-point and two five-point contests on his game log.
McDavid, 24, leads the NHL in points (74), assists (50), primary assists (36) and is tied for the lead in game-winning goals (nine) with Toronto’s Auston Matthews. Those nine game-winners have already equalled his previous season-high, which took 78 games in 2018-19.
Take a deeper dive and McDavid leads the NHL in many other statistical categories, according to Sportlogiq: pass attempts and completions in the offensive zone per game, offensive zone puck possession, slot passes, rush chances and zone entries.
They are mind-blowing numbers. In a 60-minute, high-paced game, McDavid averages 1 minute and 18 seconds with the puck on his stick in just the offensive zone. That doesn't include the rest of the ice.
McDavid’s eight goals scored off the rush are tied for the league lead with Vegas' Alex Tuch and Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat.
He also leads in open-ice dekes, when he beats a defender one-on-one, which happens an astounding 7.4 times per game.
Then there is the eye test, the intangibles, that would also suggest this is McDavid’s best season.
Monday night against Montreal provided the most recent evidence. Against perhaps the biggest and most physical team in the North Division, McDavid dragged the Oilers into the fight.
He was noticeably physical and initiating contact. He didn’t have a point in either of the first two periods, but he was impactful.
“They’re a big team and if they want to play that way, we’re not afraid to play that way,” McDavid said postgame. “We can play physical. I thought Kass [Zack Kassian] did a good job of setting the tone as well, doing what he does best. I just tried to follow in his steps and be physical as well.”
McDavid is averaging more than double the hits per game this season (1.18) than any of his previous season highs (0.58). It’s a small detail, and hits stats have always been met with skepticism, but you can feel the hits on a night like Monday – a tad more evidence that this is a season that should be savoured.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli