Edmonton Oilers ace Connor McDavid hacked once every 5 seconds he controlled puck in Game 2

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Edmonton Oilers star attacker Connor McDavid was hacked once for every five seconds he controlled the puck at even strength in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.

According to a Cult of Hockey view review of his game, McDavid controlled the puck for 100 seconds at even strength and he got hacked or slashed 19 times by a Florida defender.

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On the power play, where McDavid has more room and time to move on the perimeter, that slash-per-second rate wasn’t so extreme, in total five hacks or slashes in his 70 seconds of puck possession, one every 14 seconds.

Most of the hacks were minor ones, meant to upset McDavid’s timing and rhythm, not to jolt him so much that he would fall or even loose the puck. That kind of more aggressive lightning strike of a slash would almost certainly bring on a penalty call. Instead the fouling was more like a heavy shower, a steady, unrelenting and unpleasant pelting rain.

Think of it as Florida water torture: drip, drip, drip.

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The Florida Advantage

Florida plays state-of-the-art, cutting edge, on-the-edge NHL championship defence.

You will hear NHL commentators say this their style of play is grinding down the Oilers. They are a defensive machine. They are breaking the Oil’s will to battle. They are pushing Edmonton’s star players out of the game.

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One thing for sure: Florida play clearly within the rules as they are now constituted in the NHL.

How do I know this?

Not once was a slashing or hooking penalty called on a Florida player for their hacks or slashes on McDavid, not even when McDavid broke in late in the game, desperate for a goal, alone on Sergei Bobrovosky, save for Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk hacking McDavid three times, coming straight up under his knee and thigh with his stick just as McDavid was about to shoot.

Do you know who isn’t about to complain about such treatment? McDavid himself.

Asked about Florida, he had only praise for their defensive tactics and intensity.

“They’re a great team,” McDavid said. “They defend really well… They’re making it tough for sure.”

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A reporter asked him in somewhat confusing fashion about the legality of Tkachuk’s stick-work on the late break-in.

Reporter: “When you had that semi-breakaway with Tkachuk’s stick all over you, what were you feeling at that point?”

McDavid: “Just playing hockey. Trying to get to the net. What am I feeling, uh?”

Reporter: “No, is he…”

McDavid: “Oh, what do I feel physically?”

Reporter: “Is he stopping you, or what’s going on?

McDavid: “No, I’m trying to protect the puck. He’s trying to play the puck.”

That’s a generous assessment of McDavid that Tkachuk was only trying to play the puck. Tkachuk’s stick never came anywhere near the puck in that entire sequence, but it did whap, then can-opener McDavid’s body and legs on the play.

I can only commend McDavid’s stoic acceptance. This is how NHL defence is played in 2024, so his job is to defeat it, beat it blast through it, not moan and whine about it.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that the acceptance of constant hacking and slashing favours the brute player over the skilled one, the defensive team over the offensive one. It favours the Florida Panthers over the Edmonton Oilers.

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Such is the power of the referees to dictate the form and substance of the game being played that veteran hockey writer Ken Campbell of The Hockey News is now arguing it creates a dynamic where a brute player like Sam Bennett of the Panthers is as valuable to his team in the Stanley Cup playoffs as is a superstar.

Bennett should be in consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, Campbell said. “Sam Bennett has been an absolute force in these playoffs… The fact remains that the way the game is called in the NHL playoffs makes Bennett a very, very valuable player. As long as he’s allowed to punish with impunity a lot of the time, he has the ability to be a difference-maker. And he’s a huge reason the Panthers can taste their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.”

Of course, not all slashes go unpunished by this NHL refs. In a game where McDavid took 24 slashes, big and small, and not one of them was called, the refs did find one slash by Evan Bouchard of the Oilers to be particularly egregious and gave him a two-minute penalty.

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Perhaps the issue now isn’t that the standard for slashing is so lax. It’s that it’s so inconsistent.

In the end, as a fan of the Edmonton Oilers for more than 50 years now, and having seen my share of skilled players, I can hope for an NHL where such rampant slashing wouldn’t be accepted and star attackers were allowed to flourish.

But what I hope for in this series is even-handed reffing, where if a slashing penalty is to be called on Bouchard, then one is also called on Tkachuk when he hammers away at McDavid on a critical breakaway.

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P.S.

Here is the hit that got Warren Foegele kicked out of the game. As much a trip, it would appear. But on which player?

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At the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Fancy that! Edmonton Oilers ace Draisaitl deserves suspension, agree Canucks, Kings & Flames pundits

STAPLES: Player grades in rough Game 2 loss to Panthers

STAPLES: Pre-game evaluation Knoblauch’s major Game 2 moves. Enough to win? 

STAPLES: Don Cherry on Edmonton Oilers Game 1 loss: “That was his greatest game”

LEAVINS: 9 Things, including a look at Knoblauch’s tough decisions for Game 2

McCURDY: Player grades for Game 1 with Broberg and Janmark grading out highest

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