Flyers face challenge from Connor McDavid, slow-starting Oilers

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Calgary Flames’ Troy Brouwer (36) chases Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) dduring the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Edmonton, Alberta.

Despite Thursday’s 2-1 overtime win in Chicago, Edmonton is off to a surprisingly slow start.

The Oilers, projected as one of the NHL’s best teams, are 2-4 and entered Friday ranked 29th in goals scored (2.17 per game) and 21st in goals allowed (3.33).

Still, the Flyers, who will host the Connor McDavid-led Oilers on Saturday afternoon in Edmonton’s lone Wells Fargo appearance of the season, realize the team is better than it has shown.

They know McDavid is, well, McDavid, and that high-scoring Leon Draisaitl, who practiced Friday, could return after missing three games with a concussion. They also know Edmonton is built for the long run, and that the Oilers are capable of going on a scoring barrage at any moment.

McDavid has three goals, eight points, and a minus-two rating in six games.

“He’s fast, he’s skilled,” said Ivan Provorov, the fast-rising defenseman who figures to spend a lot of the day matched against McDavid. “We’ll try to take time and space away from him and make it as difficult as we can. If we play with the puck, he can’t score.”

The Flyers split a pair of games with the Oilers last season, winning, 6-5, at home on a late goal by Michael Raffl, and dropping a 6-3 decision in Edmonton.

McDavid, now 20 and in his third NHL season, had a goal and two assists in each game.

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott called the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t McDavid someone “you have to be aware of at all times. He can make plays that others can’t. You just have to be on your toes.”

Elliott (3.25 GAA, .884 save percentage) is expected to get Saturday’s start. He struggled against the Oilers while playing for Calgary last season, going 0-3-1 with a 3.58 GAA and .870 save percentage. Michal Neuvirth, off to an outstanding start (1.36  GAA, .957 save percentage), dropped a 6-3 decision to Edmonton last season.

After praising McDavid, Elliott said the Oilers should be wary of a Flyers offense that is averaging 3.71 goals per game, fourth in the NHL entering Friday.

“We have a lot of guys who can score on our end, too,” Elliott said. “They have to be looking out for us.”

The season is young, but the Flyers have four players with more goals than McDavid: Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Val Filppula. Shayne Gostsibehere (10 points), Jake Voracek (10), and Giroux (9) have more points than the league’s reigning MVP.

Couturier’s line figures to get lots of time against McDavid and his linemates, former Flyers farmhand Patrick Maroon and diminutive 19-year-old rookie Kailer Yamamoto.

“You have to have a good forecheck and get on them and limit their speed and their chances to get going,” fourth-line center Scott Laughton said. “If you can do that, they’re going to be stuck in the defensive zone and be tired, and then they can’t get the speed going….It’s got to be a group effort. You can’t do it with one guy.”

Forget about the well-documented McDavid-Brandon Manning feud/rivalry. Based on Friday’s practice, Manning will be a healthy scratch, and Travis Sanheim, coming off a strong performance against Nashville, will remain in the lineup.

Manning said the feud was “not something you forget about” but that it doesn’t affect his play on the ice. He said he would be disappointed not to play, saying the rivalry with McDavid “sparked me last year. For me, I think when my emotions get going in a game, I play a little better.”

Simmonds, who appeared to labor during Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Nashville from a lower-body injury and received medical attention on his injured mouth after the game, and Taylor Leier were given maintenance days Friday and did not practice. Jordan Weal practiced after missing Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury.

At Friday’s practice, Matt Read, who was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Thursday but did not play that night, took Simmonds’ spot on the second line, which included Weal and Val Filppula. Jori Lehtera was on the fourth line.

It will be a game-time decision on whether Simmonds, Leier, and Weal can play Saturday.

Breakaways

Rookie Nolan Patrick on facing McDavid: “It’s just another game. I didn’t even know we were playing them until two days ago.”…The Flyers are 4-0 when they score first, 0-3 when they don’t.