The San Jose Sharks enter the NHL playoffs needing to answer an important question: How do you stop Edmonton’s Connor McDavid?
McDavid, of course, won the Art Ross Trophy as the top scorer in hockey. He led the Oilers in goals (30) and assists (70) and finished with a league-high 100 points.
How will San Jose neutralize McDavid’s speed and keep him in check?
“I don’t know if you can totally – and it’s a compliment to him and how he’s evolved in this league,” NBC Sports Bay Area Sharks analyst Jamie Baker said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Even on TV, it doesn’t show him completely what he’s doing out there. He knows where to position himself (so that) if and when he gets the puck, he’s got three, four feet, six feet – he doesn’t need much, but just enough to get those first two strides to create separation in whatever direction he deems necessary at the time.”
Combatting that, as the regular season has shown, is not easy.
“I think to shut down a guy like McDavid, obviously you want the right match-ups, so for the Sharks, they’re going to try to get (Marc-Edouard) Vlasic and (Justin) Braun out there, but obviously it’s going to take five guys out there,” Baker said. “I think you got to be really hard and try and get under the skin of (Leon) Draisaitl and (Patrick) Maroon. I go back to the Gretzky era. It’s like, ‘We’re not going to get to Gretzky, but let’s take away Jari Curry.’ Even Mario Lemieux, if Mario is going, we’re only going be able to contain him and slow him down so much, but let’s take away his wingers.
“So there’s different strategies they can use,” Baker continued. “Maybe they’re going to try to shadow a guy. I don’t know. But I do know this, and it’ll be one of the keys to the series for the Sharks: If they can end up neutral against Connor McDavid – and I think you just make it uber-defensive – if you can just neutralize him as much as you can 5-on-5, then you really set the series up so it’s lines 2 through 4. So who’s got the better depth? That’s where the Sharks can ultimately win this series. And then you got to have good discipline and stay out of the penalty box.”
Edmonton (47-26-9) hosts San Jose (46-29-7) in Games 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Friday at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET, respectively. The series shifts to San Jose for Game 3 on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.
“Obviously, you got to give Edmonton the advantage,” Baker said. “They have home ice, they’ve been hot down the stretch and they’ve got the best player right now. I think he’s going to be the MVP of the league, so that’s an advantage to that team and it’s going to be a great challenge for San Jose.”