EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid looked faster than ever Wednesday, scoring a hat trick in a 3-0 victory against the Calgary Flames in the season opener at Rogers Place.
As completely counterintuitive as it sounds, the 20-year-old captain wanted to talk about slowing down his game after another monster outing helped the Oilers launch the 2017-18 season on a positive note.
"I think it's about being patient," said McDavid, the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award winner, and the League scoring champion with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) in 82 games last season. "For me, my game is all about speed and for me, I need to find a way to slow my feet down.
"Look at ways (Sidney) Crosby scores and ways (Auston) Matthews scores and the great scorers in the game, they're kind of in the right spot at the right time. For me, I've found I kind of zip through those and don't leave myself much of a chance. It's about slowing down a little bit and trying to find the right time, arriving on time and just getting the shot off."
McDavid, regarded by many the fastest player in the game today, agreed that seeking to slow down worked against his instincts. But it will be necessary if he is to improve his game in the future, he said.
"On the rush, I have no problem scoring on the rush," he said. "It's about in zone, finding those dirty goals. I don't think I scored on one tip, other than my first career goal. Finding a way to score on those … look at the way (Joe) Pavelski (does), and [Crosby] is great on those tips. Those are ways to score goals and I need to figure that out."
Video: CGY@EDM: McDavid opens season with hat trick
He may be looking for other methods to score, including to shoot more, but McDavid's dazzling speed was a theme throughout the game Wednesday.
He created his own breakaway 30 seconds into the game but was stopped by Flames goalie Mike Smith.
He scored his first of the game on a rebound at 11:01 of the first period, then followed it up with a goal at 8:07 of the third, one fans may be talking about all season.
In the corner to the right of Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, McDavid was below the goal line when he poked the puck away from Flames forward Micheal Ferland.
McDavid turned inside of Ferland and caught up to the puck as it was headed for the blue line. From there, McDavid skated along the right boards, outracing Calgary defenseman T.J. Brodie, who was in the middle of the ice near the blue line when the turnover happened.
Having beat all the Flames up the ice, McDavid cut to the net and quickly lifted the puck into the top right corner behind Smith.
"He doesn't go from first to second to third to fourth gear, he just goes from first to fourth and he's gone," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "He was fresh and I think they had pieces of their fourth line out so he was able to take advantage of it. What was impressive about that goal was that the puck rolled all the way down the ice and he was still able to knock it down when he needed to and then put it in a little hole. A hell of a night by him and a good night by everybody around him."
McLellan was asked if he thought McDavid could possibly get faster than he was last season.
"Well, Connor has to improve," he said. "Why not get faster? He wants to get better. He strives every day to get better. He works on individual skills. He works on his fitness. He takes care of himself away from the rink and he also studies the game.
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"There's a guy that just walked into our office that wore 99 (NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky) and he's got a magic memory. He can tell you plays that happened years and years ago, who was on the ice and how it happened. Connor has that memory as well, and the vision. Tomorrow he'll come and want to see certain things. He wants to get better."
Wednesday was pretty good though, even historc. It was the first hat trick by an Oilers player in a season opener and just the fifth time any player has recorded a natural hat trick is a season opener. Bert Corbeau (Dec. 24, 1919), Billy Boucher (Nov. 29, 1924), Ray Getliffe (Nov. 6, 1937) and Radim Vrbata (Oct. 3, 2013) are the others.
McDavid's teammates are not surprised their captain started the season in such an impressive manner, but they are amazed nonetheless.
"First off, it's only handful of guys … maybe he's the only one who can score a goal like that," defenseman Oscar Klefbom said. "He has such incredible speed on his skates. I know how it is. I practice against him every single day and he just make you look silly. It's tough. I know how that Calgary defenseman feels now and it's not fun.
"For the group of guys here, it's a big advantage having the best player in the world, in the League, right now on our team, so I'm happy about it."
Talbot, who made 26 saves for the shutout against the Flames, said the physics of McDavid's top gear usually leads to a bad outcome for opponents.
"Once Connor gets a step on you and you have to turn and try to catch him, not too many guys are going to be able to keep up to him," Talbot said. "It's nothing new for us but it never ceases to amaze."
Could it be a hint of what's to come this season?
"The sky's the limit for him," Talbot said. "I don't think we can expect a hat trick every night but if he can come out and give us that kind of effort night in and night out, and the rest of the guys can follow that leadership, then I think we'll be in good (shape) this year."