By Kevin McGran
It really does feel as if Connor McDavid is simply not going to let Auston Matthews have the spotlight entirely to himself.
On Saturday, when the hockey world was agog of Matthews’ four-point night in a Leafs win over Montreal, McDavid went out and had a five-point night against Calgary.
Both players have special talents, each this year pushing the other to high levels.
They’re both early and worthy candidates for the Hart Trophy.
In Edmonton, there are fears of an eastern bias, that the size of the Toronto voting block would overwhelm a McDavid candidacy. Fear not, history shows the size of the Toronto chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has never helped a Leaf win an award he didn’t deserve.
A Leaf hasn't won the Hart since Teeder Kennedy in 1954-55. In fact, Leafs have won very little hardware over the last 30 years or so. For trophies in which the writers vote: Matthews won the Calder in 2017, Jason Blake won the Bill Masterton in 2008, Doug Gilmour won the Selke in 1993.
Still, Oilers fans fear their players are overlooked.
McDavid won the Hart in 2017 (Only one? ... you might rightly ask.) McDavid lost the Calder in 2016 to Artemi Panarin. Teammates Leon Draisaitl won the Hart last year. Memories of the Oilers good old days when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey were awards winners.
This is a long-winded way of saying the North is being dominated by two teams, led by two players. The Leafs and Oilers appear to be separating themselves from the pack. The Jets could make it a three-horse race. After that, it’s a muddle.
As an aside, the NHL has to be extremely happy with the buzz and the visuals from the sun-interrupted two days at Lake Tahoe. A first period between Colorado and Vegas in brilliant sun on Saturday, the final two periods in the dead of night, then on Sunday an evening tilt between Philadelphia and Boston with shadows on the ice from the trees. More so than playing outdoor games in football and baseball fields, those two days looked more like the roots of the game, playing outside after dark.
Breakaway Blog Power Rankings
North Division Only. (Who needs the other guys?)
1 Toronto Maple Leafs. (Last Week: 1): The Leafs went 3-0-1. The power play operated at 50 per cent in those four games, the penalty kill was perfect. Matthews led all scorers with seven goals and 12 points. Joe Thornton had seven points.
2. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 2): The Oilers went 3-1-0. McDavid one-upped Matthews with a five-point night Saturday, including a natural hat trick. The Oilers are 8-2-0 in their last 10. They’re starting to look like more than a two-man show. Tyson Barrie – remember him? – is back. Barrie has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in his past 12 games. Darnell Nurse averaged 29 minutes a game last week. Mikko Koskinen posted a .947 save percentage.
3. Winnipeg Jets. (LW: 4): The Jets went 3-1-0. Mark Scheifele has points in 16 of Winnipeg’s 18 games, and is on a 10-game points streak. And Pierre-Luc Dubois returned to the Jets lineup with a three-point night on Sunday, including the overtime winner.
4. Ottawa Senators. (LW: 6): I can't believe they are this high, but the Senators went 2-2-0, their best week yet. And the teams beneath them had yucky weeks. I don’t think they’re going to finish any higher than seventh, but they’re trouble for any team that plays them. No taking a night off. They beat the Leafs and Canadiens over the past week.
5. Vancouver Canucks. (LW: 7): It was a 1-1-2 week. Elias Pettersson is coming to life. They’ve started to tread water. Their defence is playing better. But the Canucks are 0-10-0 when they give up the first goal.
6. Calgary Flames (LW: 3): The Flames went 1-3-0. Jacob Markstrom posted an .831 save percentage. Matthew Tkachuk has gone nine games without a goal. Up next? The Leafs. Good luck.
7. Montreal Canadiens. (LW: 5): The Canadiens went 0-1-1. They’re better than this, of course. But a week off is not what the doctor ordered. There’s trouble brewing with guys like Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin benched or scratched by coach Claude Julien. They’re a better team than this but they will have bad weeks. Power play went 0-for-4. Penalty kill allowed three goals in eight chances.