NHL on TNT: Why Connor McDavid and the Oilers Are Must-See TV Against the Flyers

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2021

NHL on TNT: Why Connor McDavid and the Oilers Are Must-See TV Against the Flyers

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    Andy Devlin/Getty Images

    Every now and then, a must-see player comes along.

    The sort of player who not only makes All-Star teams and wins individual trophies, but who also puts up numbers and compiles highlights that compare to generational talents from years gone by.

    Connor McDavid is that player.

    He and the unbeaten Edmonton Oilers will take the ice at Rogers Place to host the visiting Philadelphia Flyers in the third installment of TNT's weekly NHL package at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday. 

    And if you've never been a hockey watcher, this would be a spectacular reason to start.

    It's the first network appearance for McDavid, somehow still just 24 years old, who's made the NHL his personal playpen for six seasons since the Oilers plucked him first overall in the 2015 draft.

    He's since won three Art Ross trophies as the league's scoring champion and two Hart trophies as its most valuable player. The most recent of each came after the 2020-21 season, in which he produced 105 points in 56 games—a rate of 1.875 points per game, bested by just six players in the past 50 years.

    But what he hasn't had is prolific postseason success.

    In fact, the Oilers have made the playoffs just three times in those six seasons, winning only one series in 2017 before consecutive first-series flameouts in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

    The most recent loss, via four-game sweep to the Winnipeg Jets in May, wasted both the preposterously prolific regular season by McDavid as well as an 84-point effort by burly German center Leon Draisaitl.

    Which is among the reasons for extreme glee this fall in northern Alberta thanks to the Oilers' 5-0-0 start through the season's first two weeks, in which the team has averaged nearly five goals per game.

    McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for 10 goals and 24 points in those five games.

    They'll face a fairly unfamiliar foe, at least recently, in the Flyers, who've not ventured to western Canada since the league shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Philadelphia has split four games on home ice at the Wells Fargo Center thus far in 2021-22, sandwiching defeats of the Seattle Kraken and Boston Bruins between losses to the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers.

    The Oilers and Flyers have been intermittent rivals since Edmonton joined the NHL following their absorption from the World Hockey Association in 1979, including three postseason matchups.

    Philadelphia swept the Oilers in Wayne Gretzky's initial playoff appearance in the spring of 1980, though Edmonton got revenge with defeats of the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup in both 1985 and 1987.

    The B/R hockey writing team took a comprehensive look at the matchup and sized up some of the more prominent betting options from the number-crunchers at DraftKings. Click through to get the pertinent information and perhaps uncover an opportunity or two to cash in on the action.

Flyers at Oilers, 10 P.M. ET, on TNT

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    While McDavid and Draisaitl get the headlines, they're not alone thus far this fall.

    The Oilers have made the leap from top-heavy pretender to early-season contender thanks to contributions from a handful of others, too, including players brought in over the summer during a flurry of activity by Edmonton general manager Ken Holland.

    Winger Zach Hyman arrived from the Toronto Maple Leafs with a seven-year, $38.5 million deal in late July and has already gone about making it worthwhile, scoring five goals in his first five games on McDavid's wing and employing a hard-working approach that's become contagious across a young team.

    Three other playersJesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian—have averaged at least a point a game thus far as well, and veteran goaltenders Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen have held the fort to the tune of 175 saves on 188 shots, translating to a .931 save percentage.

    Holland retained Nugent-Hopkins with an eight-year, $41 million deal just days before he became a free agent and brought Smith back on a two-year, $4.4 million pact he'd earned with a stellar 2020-21 run.

    Edmonton won three straight at home against the Canucks, the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks to begin this season before heading on the road for wins at the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights.

    Meanwhile, it's the first trip away from home in 2021-22 for the Flyers, who split the aforementioned four games while scoring 18 goals and allowing 12.

    They appeared on TNT in the opening game of the network's doubleheader last week, getting two goals from Cam Atkinson and two assists from Derick Brassard in a 6-3 defeat of the Boston Bruins.

    Atkinson and Brassard have five points apiece through four games, a single point behind leader and linemate Joel Farabee, a 21-year-old winger who has three goals and three assists in his third season.

    Atkinson was acquired in a July trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Brassard signed a one-year deal worth $825,000 in August after spending 2020-21 with the Arizona Coyotes. 

    Farabee was drafted 14th overall in 2018 and had played 107 NHL games prior to this season.

    "It's still early on and learning your linemates' tendencies out there and you know their spots," Atkinson said to reporters. "I think that week of practice definitely helped acclimate, especially with my line and what we like to do and just get comfortable with one another and form some sort of chemistry, so it was a good week of practice."

    In goal, Carter Hart has made three starts through four games compared to one for Martin Jones. The pair has surrendered 11 goals on 133 shots, and the team's goals-allowed total was tied for eighth in the NHL heading into Tuesday.

Betting Guide

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    Andy Devlin/Getty Images

    The Oilers are flying where everyone can see them.

    The Flyers, on the other hand, are operating a bit under the radar.

    Edmonton arrives to Wednesday's game atop the Pacific Division and near the apex of the league with 10 points, joining the Panthers, St. Louis Blues and Carolina Hurricanes as the only unbeaten, untied teams.

    Its plus-11 goal differential was tied for fourth heading into Tuesday's games, at which point McDavid (13) was a point ahead of Alex Ovechkin (12) and two up on Draisaitl (11) for the NHL's scoring lead.

    Speaking of statistics, it's something of an anomaly that Philadelphia is last in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, given that it's earned five points in four games and has won (2) as many as it's lost (2).

    In fact, half of the division's teams had played at least six times before Tuesday.

    Still, though the drastic differences in standings positions may not be decisive Wednesday night, there's a strong chance that the chasm in top-end talent will be, perhaps at the expense of profits.

    The Oilers are an outright -165 favorite (bet $165 to win $100) on the moneyline, though they do present a +155 possibility if you're willing to spot the Flyers a 1.5-goal cushion. More plus money is available, at +105, if you like the overall goal total to stay under 6.5.

    If you're willing to lay money to generate a slimmer windfall, Edmonton seems a worthwhile moneyline gamble to win straight up, but being the risk-comfortable folks that we are, we'll go ahead with the other two plays and envision a late empty-netter that gives Edmonton a 4-2 win.

    Wager $200, reap $265 in profits.

    Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday night.

    And that's OK. You can thank us later.

            

    If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL).

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