Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters were in London to take on the Mitch Marner-less Knights in hopes of completing the sweep, and advancing to the Western Conference final.
With Marner out of the lineup, the lone Knight I tracked was Max Domi (Coyotes) while I kept my eye on a pair of draft eligibles centers in McDavid and Dylan Strome for Erie, as well as 2016 draft eligible winger Alex DeBrincat.
Final score: 4-2 Erie.
Alex DeBrincat played primarily on a line with Dylan Strome so their numbers were very similar. That said, when Erie was defending the lead Strome had a couple defensive zone starts without DeBrincat by his side, which explains the difference.
Connor McDavid and Max Domi went head-to-head the entire game – there were only a couple shifts they weren’t matched against each other – which is why their numbers are almost the exact opposite. McDavid had more offensive zone starts early, but when London was pressing late to tie it Domi was able to get some offensive zone starts in.
DeBrincat didn’t have a ton of entry attempts because a) Strome took some of them and; b) he didn’t start many shifts outside of the offensive zone, but he certainly showed the ability to gain the line with possession. He’s a very quick, shifty player so London’s defenders regularly backed off to ensure he didn’t blow by them.
Strome wasn’t dynamite through the neutral zone, but he also showed the ability to safely carry the puck into the offensive zone. His lone failure was when he was trying to accept a pass in stride and he was poke checked in the process.
A lot of McDavid’s shifts started on the fly so he had more entry attempts than Strome and DeBrincat despite similar zone start numbers. The offense runs through McDavid when he’s on the ice – as it should – and because of his high-end speed and pace London’s gaps were loose, and this was the result.
It wasn’t hard to see why Dale Hunter was confident matching Domi up against McDavid regardless of where his shifts started. Domi plays with such great pace, and is a dynamic skater, which makes him very effective carrying the puck up ice. He put forth a dominant neutral zone effort and made it look easy at times.
DeBrincat started 70% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and played on a line with Dylan Strome, while avoiding London’s best defense pairing/forward line on a regular basis so it was less than surprising to see him post these numbers. Still, it was a good performance from him — he did what he was supposed to do.
I was really impressive with Strome’s game. He took a couple extra shifts away from DeBrincat in defensive situations, and still dominated in possession while tallying a goal, an assist, and getting sucker punched.
For a big name like McDavid you’d expect better numbers, but 50% is hardly a disappointing effort when you factor in a) he was playing against London’s best forward line in Domi, Christian Dvorak (Coyotes) and Matt Rupert, as well as London’s top defense pairing. I think a big part of the reason he didn’t come out higher in possession was that almost every time London gained possession of the puck Domi was safely carry it into the offensive zone, which led to a barrage of shot attempts.
Domi put forth an impressive performance in what will go down as his final junior game. Playing primarily against McDavid’s line he came out above 50% in possession, dominated through the neutral zone, and scored one of London’s two goals.
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