Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames have an in-house McDavid antidote

On Oct. 4, the Edmonton Oilers proved to the hockey world that they were everything everyone prognosticated them to be en route to their 3-0 domination over the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of the regular season.

Since then, the Oilers have continued to… wait no. That can’t be right. They’ve been awful? Downright ghastly at times? Third worst team in the NHL? But how could that have happened when they were so dominant against the Flames in Game 1? This requires investigation! Well, a quick glance look at the score sheet would reveal a McDavid hat trick resulted in all three goals. Hmm. McDavid is also over a point-per-game, as it stands.

Okay, I think I understand. Let’s try that opening line again.

On Oct. 4, the Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid proved to the hockey world that they were he was everything everyone prognosticated them him to be en route to their his 3-0 domination over the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of the regular season. Ah, that’s better.

Problem is, McDavid was still dominant in that game and will still be present in their second meeting on Saturday. We can joke all we want about how McDavid is the Edmonton Oilers, but fact is he still plays for said team and his beating the Flames is still the Oilers beating the Flames. McDavid has run roughshod over the Flames his entire career thus far, with nine goals and 13 points in just eight meetings. So… what do you do about that?

Is there a solution to the seemingly unsolvable Connor McDavid riddle? I’m not trying to being quizzacious, but he really did look unstoppable in Game 1.

Actually, there is a solution, and it’s already in-house.

One of the 3M’s M’s

There has been no shortage of love for the 3M line on FlamesNation since they were dubbed that by Mike Pfeil last year, but as many have come to learn, the line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik has deserved every droplet of praise that’s been laid on them.

They’ve dominated the oppositon game in and game out, to the point where they only trailed possession god Patrice Bergeron and his sidekicks Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as the best possession line in hockey last year. All that has carried over to this season, and with added run support from Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland, the Flames have established themselves a high-end top six.

However on the McDavid front, it’s 3M – Backlund, specifically – where our attention should shift to. McDavid is portrayed as an unstoppable world beater, bound to run over any and every opposition centre unfortunate enough to line up opposite him. While McDavid is certainly a world beater, that second bit may not be entirely true.

On Oct. 4, McDavid ran roughshod over most of the Flames. Keyword: most.

As we see below, Backlund in fact ran over McDavid in the short time he played against them. Todd McLellan is no dummy though, and being on home ice, did all he could to separate McDavid from Backlund and 3M. You can see how well that went.

Connor McDavid TOI v Backlund Corsi For Corsi Against CF% v Backlund Scoring Chances For Scoring Chances Against SCF% v Backlund TOI away from Backlund CF% away from Backlund SCF% away from Backlund
Stats at 5 on 5 3:06 2 5 28.57 0 2 0 11:03 72.34 72.00

Pretty damning stuff, despite the tiny sample size. In just over three minutes of play, McDavid was completely stuffed by Backlund. They managed five Corsi events and two scoring chances to McDavid’s two events and no scoring chances. Once McDavid got away from Backlund though, he became a monster again, owning 72.34% of the Corsi share and 72% of the scoring chances. That’s a wild swing.

Now, the Flames really didn’t have their legs that game – and the Oilers came in absolutely flying – so we should expect a significantly better effort from the home side overall, but it’s still interesting to see how ineffective McDavid was against Backlund.

Those numbers from their first meeting are surely flattering, but the sample size is far too small to make any definitive judgments. However, when you take a peek at McDavid’s career results against Backlund, the trend leads you to believe they’re legit.

Connor McDavid Year TOI v Backlund Corsi For Corsi Against CF% v Backlund Scoring Chances For Scoring Chances Against SCF% v Backlund TOI away from Backlund CF% away from Backlund SCF% away from Backlund
Stats at 5 on 5 15/16 7:03 13 8 61.90 8 5 61.54 35:49 51.72 47.22
16/17 16:31 12 22 35.29 6 9 40 40:07 40.00 58.97
17/18 3:06 2 5 28.57 0 2 0 11:03 72.34 72.00

At the risk of being crude, if this was a bad 80’s adult film, Backlund’s the one in the leather bodysuit holding a whip.

McDavid seemed to have Backlund’s number in a small sample as a rookie, but the Swede quickly figured out the young phenom. Last year, the Oilers won all five games against the Flames and McDavid dominated them when Backlund wasn’t on the ice. When #11 was on the ice though, McDavid got positively run over. He managed a paltry 35.29% of the Corsi share and 40% of the scoring chances. Considering he’s widely considered the best player in the world and the mammoth season he had, that is wild.

Overall, Backlund still holds a 35 CF to 30 CA career advantage over McDavid; 27 to 14 in the last two seasons.

The Flames’ biggest question coming into any game with the Oilers is rightfully, “How do we stop Connor McDavid?” It’s a valid question and one that they haven’t seem to have found an answer to eight games in. The Oilers have done a great job keeping McDavid away from Backlund, seeing only 26:40 TOI against Backlund in his total 113:39 TOI versus the Flames.

That roughly amounts to Calgary deploying their McDavid antidote a feeble 23% of the time 97 is roaming around. Looking at his advanced metrics when Backlund isn’t on the ice, it’s not a wonder McDavid is averaging over a goal a game against the Flames.

Well Glen and staff, this what we at FlamesNation are here for. Finding answers to your tough questions. Mikael Backlund might very well be the solution to your Connor McDavid problem.

One might suggest the Flames should go with the conventional top line v top line approach on home ice – one favoured by Gulutzan this season – but I’m here to tell you don’t. Like most everyone in the NHL, Monahan hasn’t the most success against the Oilers’ wunderkind.

Connor McDavid Year TOI v Monahan Corsi For Corsi Against CF% v Monahan Scoring Chances For Scoring Chances Against SCF% v Monahan
Stats at 5 on 5 15/16 17:48 14 14 50 10 9 52.63
16/17 21:36 23 23 50 15 11 57.69
17/18 8:01 11 8 57.89 7 4 63.64

Monahan was able to keep up in the possession game the past two seasons with McDavid before getting crushed this year, but the scoring chances have always favoured McDavid and you can see a troubling trend emerging. My hypothesis is as McDavid’s confidence to use his speed has grown – and his top speed has also increased – Monahan’s effectiveness has decreased. He’s not the flightiest of foot as we all know.

Sam Bennett’s line saw 4:16 against McDavid on Oct. 4 and got absolutely bent for a 16% CF. That’s five Corsi events to McDavid’s 21, so let’s not even go there. Seriously… 21 events against in four minutes is obscene.


Backlund’s success versus McDavid gives the Flames a legitimate counter against what can be, at times, the Oilers’ only scoring threat. Even if at the end of the night the 3M vs. McDavid line nets even on the score board, the Flames should theoretically make hay against the lumbering bottom half of the Oilers’ roster. What’s more, McLellan would likely be forced to separate McDavid and Draisaitl to avoid their entire offence being smothered, further diluting the Oilers’ attack.

On home ice, there’s just no reason for Backlund to not be stapled to McDavid’s hip.

Not only should the Flames be a better team this time around, they could even tilt the ice completely in their direction if they succeed in gluing Backlund to McDavid, seeing as the Oilers have struggled with depth all year, and they still have the white-hot Monahan line to trot out against whomever.

Though 26 minutes and 40 seconds isn’t enough to declare it a certainty, Mikael Backlund very much looks like Calgary’s kryptonite to Edmonton’s Superman.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Walter, there you are, so…you still want to trade Backs for whatever you can get, while he’s the only one who can take the generational out of talent when it comes to this Connor guy? You MUST be finally coming around, no?

      • Carl the tooth

        Definitely needs to be signed before the deadline . I’d hate to see another Cammalari situation. I’m sure Flames could have gotten at least a 2nd and 3rd round for him .im pretty sure they weren’t in contention to make playoffs that year though so a bit of a different scenario . What could Flames get in return for Backlund?

        • Kevin R

          If we don’t get Backlund resigned before the TDL we will need to give him pretty close to what he will get on the market to retain the asset. That means nothing less than a 5 year deal (he could easily get 6 on the open market) & nothing less than 5.0 mill per (& again he could easily get Turris money on the open market July 1)

          I hope Tre can get a reasonable deal done before the TDL.

  • smatic10

    It’s upsetting that other teams can somehow beat the Oilers but we only have one line capable of stopping him. I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Anything short of Calgary’s A game is unacceptable in my opinion. We have home ice advantage, a top line that has things figured out, a second line that is one of the best possession lines in the league, a third line that seems to play well at home, a consistent starting goalie, and we’re playing a team that doesn’t have its number 1 goalie (who actually has been mediocre anyway). As long as the defense plays a solid, simple game and Gulutzun doesn’t make any boneheaded decisions, this is a VERY winnable game.

    • oilcanboyd

      Well, you sayin’ other teams can somehow beat the oilers but we have only one line that can stop McDavid? Well, McDavid scores 2 points in games the oilers lose too and you say other teams can stop him? lol. I bet that this year McD has scored more points in games that the oilers have lost than won…he picks up a lot of loser points!

      • smatic10

        McDavid is going to pick up points no matter what team he’s playing, he’s just that good. What I find frustrating as a Flames fan is that once McDavid gets going against us, they allow him to take over the game by himself. Breakaway after breakaway. Other teams concede goals because of McDavid too but they still manage to beat the Oilers. Why? Sometimes the team is coached well or they’re outworking the Oilers or both. Since the beginning of last season, I can’t recall any game where the Flames played better than the Oilers in a head to head match up. I hope the hustle is there tonight and Gulutzun has watched some Oilers game tapes so he can better strategize. That’s what it’s going to take to beat them.

        • Kevin R

          Fact! GG has not beaten the Oilers as Flames coach. That “has” to change!!! Or I don’t care what he does the other 77 games, if we keep getting swept by the Oilers I want him gone.

    • Carl the tooth

      I think the FLAMES topline has come along way since the first game of the season and last year and a decent 3rd line taking form .Talbot /Larson hurt . Still yet to see TKACHUK Anderson Bennett to make an impact vs EDm lol this is Jankowski first battle in the BOA . Good chance here to make a statement.

  • RKD

    McGreedy is too young to be captain, they threw a boatload of money at him $100 million and now expect him to be a leader and a captain. Teams have figured out his up the middle speed burst move, right now he’s just padding his stats. McFlop hangs his teammates out to dry on a nightly basis, he’s playing without heart.

  • BlueBloods

    Great article. Thanks for writing this Christian, and proving how valuable Backs is for the flames. Backs is grossly underrated and it would be a huge loss to lose him in any capacity.

  • Lucky 13

    I’m making no predictions about tonight. I don’t want to jinx anything. Yes I’m superstitious and not proud of it.

    It’s difficult to match anyone against McDavid, the sheer speed he possesses on the ice is incredible.(40km/hr) Why are they clocking his speed?

    To see the underlying numbers that Backlund’s line has when he’s on the ice is quite the testament.

    Hopefully GG uses his coconuts tonight and we can at least contain him.

    Please no first line against first line matchup GG, my anxiety can’t bare it.

    It should be a really interesting game, who or what is going to be the difference maker? I guess we’ll find out soon.

    The trolls have been silent this season, please win so it stays that way!

    • oilcanboyd

      “The trolls have been silent this season, please win so it stays that way!”

      This! Haven’t heard from the trolls much since Detroit slammed us and the oil got lucky against LVK junior B goalies.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    This is the biggest game of the year for the Flames and even bigger for the Oilers. We need to keep our boot on the neck of the snake. Calgary is coming off a impressive win while the Oilers are coming off a devastating loss.

    The first line needs to find its mojo again. Jagr needs to give Johnny the pep talk again about winning the scoring title. No Larsen or Talbot for the Oilers. Going to miss the first battle of Alberta game in 5 years but I will be taking in the Anaheim at Nashville game as part of the annual Dad/Daughter sports weekend.