LeBrun: Can Phillip Danault stop Connor McDavid?

EDMONTON — A year ago it was Auston Matthews. Now it’s Connor McDavid.

Philippe Danault certainly isn’t returning to his playoff assignments.

“I live for these challenges,” said the Los Angeles Kings the center said after Monday’s morning practice.

The next seven to 12 days will be fascinating theater in what will arguably be the most intriguing individual game of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Danault coming off a playoff last year in which he helped shut down the main offensive arms in Toronto. , Winnipeg and Las Vegas.

“He was brilliant in the role of the three series last year”, golden knights head coach Peter DeBoer said via text Sunday. “The big key is his faceoffs. So important that they start with the puck against the offensive players. Sometimes it takes you half the shift to get it back. He and Kopitar will be a problem for Edmonton. (Danault) makes you work on time and space. All good players want it and he’s a dog on a bone to pull it off. Very strong for its size.

“If the series is five-on-five and LA avoids penalties, it will be interesting to see how the two big players handle it.”

The two big shots, of course, being McDavid and Leon Draisaitlthe best one-two punch in the center of the NHL. Kings to respond with Danault and former Selke Trophy winner Anze Kopitar.

A year ago around this time, Danault was heading into the playoffs with another global challenge, trying to limit Matthews and Mitch Marmer.

“Well, he takes a lot of pride in it,” said the former Montreal Canadiens line mate Brendan Gallagher Told Athleticism Monday. “And if you remember that first-round series, Matthews and Marner the first two games, they had quite a few chances and that’s where we needed (Carey) Price. I think as and as the series went on, Phil just studies the game, he studies an opponent so well, and we had Webby (Weber Shea) on the ice as well, but Phil was so proud of the work we had to do.

“We knew at the start of this series if we could keep these guys off the scoresheet our chances of winning would go up dramatically,” added Gallagher. “And that’s the same thing they’ll have with Edmonton. Playing against Connor, he’s actually had success in the past, so it’s going to be a good game and I know Phil will be happy to take on the challenge. … It’s intriguing.”

What makes Danault so effective in his stopping role?

“Well, he’s really smart,” Gallagher said. “Obviously it takes time and space from them, and especially with a player like McDavid or a Matthews, you just can’t let them go with the puck. Because once they get into it, it’s too hard. It’s anticipating the game, it’s knowing when he’s going to get it, where he’s going to be when he gets it and then being above it. And maybe not letting him go at full speed so much and frustrate him.

“I mean, you’re talking about Connor, in most people’s minds you’re talking about the best player in the world. But when you’re talking about Phil, I don’t know if there are a lot of better center stoppage in terms of time and space and game anticipation. He’s a 55% guy on faceoffs every year, he controls the game that way. He’s pretty dominant in his craft.”

As DeBoer noted earlier, when Danault wins those key faceoffs, that’s half the battle to winning that shift against star offensive opponents.

“It’s a big difference in the game,” Danault said. “If you can win the faceoff, you start the first 10 seconds of the shift with the puck. It will be important against Edmonton in this series, obviously.

How he ended up with the Kings, of course, has been well documented. He rejected a six-year, $30 million offer from the Habs before last season, well, that pretty much ended talks with Montreal. But it wasn’t just a question of money. There was a feeling that Danault would likely be transitioning into a third-line role with the Canadiens (behind Nick Suzuki and at the time, Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and he obviously didn’t see himself being that player.

Either way, Danault believed in himself before free agency and not only signed a six-year, $33 million deal with the Kings, half a million more a year than he was offered a few months earlier by Montreal, but he was also drawn to the kind of top-six role that awaited him in Los Angeles.

In short, he bet on himself and he was right.

“I’m really proud of my decision, I’m proud that I trusted my instincts,” he told me in French. “It was a big decision. I’m happy with the season I’ve had, I’ve been really well received, really well received by the Kings. They treated me very well. The contract itself said that. long on their belief in me. They believed in me as much as I believed in myself. That’s what I needed to take the next step in my game.”

And what a step it was. Danault exploded for a career-high 27 goals this season. Who saw this coming? He scored five goals in 53 games with the Canadiens last season.

Talk about backing up that new contract.

“You just wanted everyone to be happy,” said his old friend Gallagher, recalling how contract business deteriorated last year. “And Phil set his price and stuck to it, he knew what he was worth no matter how many people on the outside believed him. He felt like he deserved this opportunity. friend and as a teammate, you just wanted him to be happy.

“He found a great home there in Los Angeles, I saw the other day he was voted MVP of the team, he took on that challenge.”

When Claude Julien was hired in February 2017 for a second stint behind the Canadiens bench, Danault was halfway through his first full 82-game season as an NHL player after playing partial seasons in Chicago. .

It didn’t take long before Danault asked Julien about a certain player the coach had in Boston.

“I know he’s always been a big fan of Patrice Bergeron,” Julien said. Athleticism. “He kept asking me a lot of questions about him. He was very proud of that part of his game. He wanted to be like Patrice, that kind of player. Face-offs have therefore become important for him and his two-way game.

Danault feels he clearly benefited from being able to talk to Julien about Bergeron’s game.

“I mean, I’m not Patrice Bergeron, he is on another level obviously, “quickly underlined Danault on Monday. “But still having the chance to try and model my game from him to some extent was my goal, in my own way. Again, we’re not the same player, that’s a class apart.

“But yes, I would ask Claude a few questions about Patrice and I got to know Patrice through Claude.”

And the credit goes to Julien who saw the kind of two-way game that could develop in Danault. He creates a line with Gallagher and Tomas Tatarcentered by Danault, who had the most impact for the Habs for a few years.

“I told him at the time: ‘You are a great two-way player. You should be proud of that. And he did it, he really did it,'” said Julien, who will coach Canada at the next world championship.

“And obviously this year he exploded more in the goalscoring category. It was nice to see him having a good year like this. He’s a very coachable player.

So what makes Danault so effective?

“His conscience, isn’t it? “said Julien. “He’s out there with those guys, he knows where they are at all times and he knows the minute they touch the puck, he has to be there to get to them. He has a good understanding of this role. Again, he tried to look at other players in the league who play that role.

“A lot of it is about pride.”

(Photo by Connor McDavid and Phillip Danault: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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