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Winning Play: McDavid’s defense leads to good offense

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TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on November 6, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s one step up, two steps back for the San Jose Sharks.

After playing what Aaron Dell called their “best all-around game” on Saturday, the Sharks let old (or new?) habits burn them in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers last night.

Up 3-2 to open the final frame, San Jose allowed the best player in the world to get out on a 3-on-2.

Earlier in the afternoon, new Edmonton coach Ken Hitchcock made waves when he suggested that superstar Connor McDavid needed to improve.

”He has an awesome responsibility. It’s not just scoring goals, getting points,” offered Hitchcock. “He sets the competitive tone of the hockey club. I’ve been through some really good players who learned to adapt and do those things.”

While Hitchcock did not spell out what “those things” were, some took it to mean that the defensively-minded coach would seek to tinker with McDavid’s 200-foot approach.

Whereever you stand on McDavid’s two-way game — some believe that he could stand to get better in the defensive zone, while others sharply disagree — it’s McDavid’s two-way play that kickstarted the 3-on-2.

Along the wall, Tomas Hertl (48) intercepted Oscar Klefblom’s (77) breakout attempt. A strong Leon Draisaitl (29), however, did not give up on Hertl, enabling a double-teaming McDavid (97) to swoop in and take back the puck.

Critically, both Logan Couture (39) and Timo Meier (28) were thinking offense, despite a one-goal lead and a 50-50 battle along the boards. McDavid robbed, then blew by Hertl. Couture and Meier were caught deep on the 3-on-2.

”Especially when we’re out there against McDavid, we can’t do that,” admitted Couture.

After good defense, Draisaitl and McDavid conjured magical offense.

At the San Jose blueline, Draisaitl sauced a perfect wing-to-wing backhand pass, over Marc Edouard Vlasic (44) and Justin Braun’s (61) outstretched sticks, to McDavid.

”Whenever it’s in Drait’s hands, it’s usually going to be a good play,” noted McDavid. “He didn’t disappoint.”

Drake Caggiula (91) drove the center lane. McDavid showed shot, drawing Braun and Martin Jones’s attention.

”They’re a funny twosome,” said Hitchcock of his dynamic duo. “The bench sniffs it out. The bench gets loud when those guys have one step on somebody. They feel something big is coming.”

McDavid didn’t disappoint, sliding a pass under Braun’s stick for an easy Caggiula tap-in. Tied game.

”That’s a good working goal,” indicated McDavid. “We did a good job of not letting them get into our zone, winning a puck battle. That had it all, that play.”

As for the Sharks, Pete DeBoer talked last week about his forwards taking too many chances on the offensive end. He’s right. While Braun and Jones look bad here, it’s Couture and company who hung them out to dry.