EDMONTON, AB - Jordan Eberle laughed with reporters Tuesday morning, saying it was funny he and Connor McDavid had never played a game together. When Eberle was returning from injury, McDavid went down with his.
Tuesday night was the pair’s first chance to play together and they did so on the same line, with Benoit Pouliot. The result? A combined seven points and three of the Oilers five goals in their 5-1 win over Columbus.
That stat line alone sounds impressive, but it was mixed reviews from the players, knowing they can be even better.
“I thought as a line we played well,” said Eberle. “I thought there were certain areas we can improve on. I thought we had trouble staying in their end and getting a cycle going but those things are gonna come. I thought special teams wise, we obviously got two there and that’s something to build on too.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin. |
McDavid echoed those sentiments.
"The points were there, but that doesn’t really matter though,” he said. “We did some good stuff, some stuff we need to improve on as well. I don’t think we had too much zone time 5-on-5. A lot of our stuff came off the rush. Stuff to for sure work on, but a lot of stuff I thought we did very well.”
Two of those three forwards’ goals came on the power play. After McDavid’s highlight-reel tally made it 2-1 Oilers at 9:58 of the second, Pouliot tipped in a shot by Andrej Sekera on the man advantage at 16:32. Eberle finished off the game’s scoring at 14:41 of the third, on the power play, firing a loose puck in an open net after McDavid corralled it behind the net.
The prettiest of that line’s goals was McDavid’s. The rookie centre deked past a pair of Blue Jackets and undressed Joonas Korpisalo sending the Rexall Place crowd into euphoria.
“It takes your breath away a little bit, how fast he is. You’ve got to be able to get him the puck quick,” said Eberle.
Heading into the night, Eberle and Pouliot talked about being excited to play alongside the 2015 first-overall pick in his return from a long-term clavicle injury that caused him to miss 37 games. Unlike Eberle, Pouliot had played with McDavid earlier in the season.
“Just what he can do out there and the way he plays the game makes it a little bit easier,” Pouliot said. “He carries the puck so well. He can take it fall the way from one end to the other end. You’ve just got to find the spot to be where he’s going to pass it or shoot it or go in front or whatever. For me and Ebs, Ebs can control the puck as much as Connor can so you’ve just got to play through it. I’ll be in front and try to do something.”
|Photo by Andy Devlin |
Pouliot was in front of the net on his goal, furthering the rumour that he can see the future. Sure, Pouliot can’t really see the future and neither can McDavid. The rookie says he definitely didn’t expect to have the kind of game in his return he did Tuesday against Columbus. Not many could have envisioned such a night for McDavid or that line as a whole. The rookie recorded three points (1-2-3), Eberle had two (1-1-2) and Pouliot added two (1-1-2).
“Any time you’re playing with a player of his calibre, it helps you a lot,” Eberle said before the game. The right-winger indicated that McDavid centring that line could help spark the individual offensive production of himself and Pouliot.
So far, so good on that front.
Head Coach Todd McLellan says he put those three together not only boost Eberle and Pouliot, but also help McDavid get “up and running.”
“(Pouliot) can open up a lot of space for those guys, and he has a good finish from the left side,” said McLellan. “With Ebs, who has a lot of experience scoring goals, and has some nice hands, I think he can be the benefactor of Connor’s play as well. In turn, I think those two need to help Connor as much as Connor is going to help them, and get Connor up and running. Obviously, there will be a focal point on 97. I just feel that those two can help him out games one, two, three and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Perhaps if the line is producing points and wins like they helped do on Tuesday night, they’ll remain together for quite some time.