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THE CONNOR EFFECT

Flames have solid game plan to contain McDavid when they face Oilers

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

A surprise appearance by Justin would draw less attention at a Belieber slumber party.

"Him and Sid (Crosby),'' says Flames' captain Mark Giordano, offering Connor McDavid the absolute highest of hockey compliments, "are a lot alike. They're able to do things at high speed with the puck.

"No disrespect to Sid, he's won three Cups. But this guy is real special, too.

"You've got to be aware of him at all times.

"You can't let him wind up.

"You feel the speed when you're out there."

That's the Final Jeopardy question as the Flames packed up for the short junket to Edmonton and Wednesday's season-opener at Rogers Place (8 p.m., TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 960 The FAN): How do you solve a problem like McDavid?

How on earth do you even attempt to slap the cuffs on a 20-year-old Hart Trophy-claiming, Art Ross Trophy-winning, 100-point prodigy?

"Well, you have to game plan against him, for sure," is Giordano's immediate answer.

"And the game plan is you've to take away his speed. It's a five-man effort out there.  

"He finds ways to get open. He finds ways to make things happen.

"He does things so quickly with the puck. A lot of guys are fast but with the puck on his stick he's just as fast. If not faster.

"We'll have different ways to try and eliminate time and space. That's what you're always trying to do against top players. 

"But it's also always easier said than done."

In the mix-n-match game within a game, given his druthers, Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan would likely prefer to see the Giordano-Dougie Hamilton defence pair out there incessantly against No. 97, and Mikael Backlund going noggin-to-noggin with him at centre.

"I'm not sure how much we'll see other,'' confessed Backlund on Tuesday. "But they have last change so it's harder to match-up. I guess we'll find out.

"He's so shifty and fast. He's not just a skate-ahead skater. He moves so well sideways, quick in all his turns.

"And strong. He's a big guy.

"It's fun to play against him. I love the challenge to face the best players. And he is the best player. Him or Crosby."

The Connor Effect is Job 1 for the Flames. Asked during his post-practice media availability about the challenges in bottling up the Oilers, Gulutzan didn't waste a heartbeat in answering.

"Connor McDavid. That's going to be a challenge for everyone in the league. We have to make sure we're ready to play against an elite player. We have to play a certain way for 60 minutes.

"I don't look any further for a blueprint, last year in the (third) game, the 1-1 game, I thought we were very effective in a lot of things we did.

"We'll add a couple little nuances but we're going to have to have the right mindset going in to play."

Goaltender Mike Smith, marking his debut in the Battle of Alberta on Wednesday, had a fairly no-frills take on muffling McDavid.

"Don't let him score.

"No, obviously he's one of the top players in the league. He's a guy you have to key-in on. But there's lots of other good players on that team, too. So it's not just what he can do.

"You want to know when he's on the ice. We've talked about that. But we've got to be prepared for what's going on all around us."

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