ANAHEIM -- Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle is often characterized as deeply rooted in the old-school style of hockey, but one thing he does like to do is play the matchup game.
Carlyle had a challenge on his hands Wednesday night with Connor McDavid, the NHL's leading scorer with 85 points, and the Edmonton Oilers at Honda Center. Not only was the Ducks-Oilers matchup a battle for second place in the Pacific Division, it was also a possible Stanley Cup Playoff preview. On that level, as coach of the home team, it gave Carlyle the chance to get his shutdown checker of choice, Ryan Kesler, out against McDavid.
A potential Selke Trophy candidate against a strong Hart Trophy candidate.
Video: EDM@ANA: McDavid shows off speed, nets nifty backhand
McDavid had two points in the first period -- a goal and an assist -- and added another assist in the final seconds but the Ducks won 4-3. Forward Ryan Getzlaf had three assists and defenseman Hampus Lindholm had a NHL career-high three points (one goal, two assists).
With all the McDavid buzz, a younger Getzlaf might have taken this as a personal challenge, but not at 31.
"It's not really a factor for me," Getzlaf said. "I'm not that old but I'm too old for that stuff. Obviously when I was younger there [were] more matchups where they built things up and it was time to compete.
"The kid is a hell of a hockey player. We pay attention to him at a certain level. But for me it's another game to try to push our group forward."
Still, this was the kind of response the Ducks needed from their veteran captain in what Carlyle had called "the biggest game for the year for both hockey clubs."
The Ducks, 6-1-1 in the past eight games, took possession of second place in the Pacific Division, two points behind the San Jose Sharks. They lead the Oilers by two points and both teams have nine games remaining.
Anaheim made the adjustments after a freewheeling first period and did a better job in the faceoff circle, turning the tide after the first 20 minutes.
Video: EDM@ANA: Rakell stickhandles, roofs home wrist shot
"I thought we did a better job maintaining our attitude throughout the game," Getzlaf said. "We're not getting carried away in certain situations like we have in the past."
Ducks forward Rickard Rakell, who scored his team-leading 32nd goal of the season and added an assist, spoke about facing the talented McDavid.
"I thought Kesler's line, we were trying to match them to play against him," Rakell said. "They've been doing a great job the whole year. Even though [McDavid] did some good plays today, I thought we still didn't give him any momentum, or chance to get momentum in the game except for the beginning of the first period."
McDavid has been mentioned in the Hart conversation in his second NHL season, but his viability as a candidate stems mostly from how far the Oilers have come in the short time he's been in Edmonton.
The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006, the year they unexpectedly advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, and there have been a lot more downs than ups in the interim. But McDavid has proven to be the real deal, arguably the NHL's fastest skater, a nightmarish matchup for a team like Anaheim, which likes to play a heavy game and would prefer the game be played at a more sedate speed.
It was a team, the Ducks, in the midst of its championship window of opportunity, against a team, the Oilers, just starting to peer into that window. The postseason is often a different story than the regular season, especially when it features a team with a playoff pedigree against one trying to navigate through it for the first time in a long time.
How far can the Oilers go? With McDavid, anything is possible.