EDMONTON -Lightning captain Steven Stamkos knows Connor McDavid well, having worked out with the Oilers superstar every summer.
But Monday marked the first time the two went head-to-head in an NHL game.
It turned into the McDavid Show, with Stamkos getting a front-row seat.
McDavid scored four goals to hand the the Lightning a humbling 6-2 loss at Rogers Place, ending an eight-game road trip with a thud. Stamkos had zero shots on goal.
"He's one of the best, if not the best, for a reason," Stamkos said. "He's got another gear that no one has in this league."
The Lightning (36-14-3) is struggling to get back to the gear it was on at the beginning of the season. Tampa Bay may have won five of eight on this telling trip, but it hasn't looked good doing so. The team defense has been brutal, allowing 30 or more shots in 13 of its last 14. The Oilers had seven odd-man rushes Monday, with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy mercifully pulled after the second period.
"It's alarming the way we're playing," Stamkos said. "It hasn't felt like we've played a solid game in a while."
It's not just one thing. Tampa Bay has had bad breakouts, spending a lot more time in its own zone. It's getting out of its structure. It's turning pucks over. It looks tired, which makes sense considering the Lightning has played 13 of the last 16 on the road (9-5-2 in that stretch).
Center Tyler Johnson said the Lightning is playing hard, just not smart. And not together.
"It's that mental fortitude," Johnson said. "We have to be playing on the same level. You can work 100 miles per hour, but if you're not all on the same plan, it's really just useless. You've got to put both together. It's mental but it's also work ethic."
The Lightning nearly suffered a third-period collapse Saturday in Vancouver before holding on. Monday's game should provide a stark reminder that while Tampa Bay is in a good spot – in first place – it still has a long way to go (and maybe needs a move or two by the Feb. 26 trade deadline).
"We've been getting a couple wins that maybe we haven't deserved," Alex Killorn said. "So it's a little bit of a reality check right now."
It wasn't a good omen that the Oilers, the worst power-play team in the league, scored twice with the man advantage in its first two attempts. The Lightning did get a boost from its best line as of late, with Killorn and Yanni Gourde each scoring a goal.
But it wasn't enough. McDavid scored his first goal on a slick redirection on the power play. His second was an unreal flip from a bad angle off the rush. And his third? McDavid stripped Mikhail Sergachev at the blue line and used his trademark speed to cruise in for a breakaway goal on Louis Domingue.
The hats flew down from the rafters, and he still had another goal left in him. It was McDavid's night.
Veteran Chris Kunitz, the former long-time Penguin, has seen many dominating performances like this from Sidney Crosby. "They don't have a fear button, they take it right through the middle," Kunitz said. "They enjoy the contact almost. They're driven by more than just wins and points. They're driven by how they can change the game. Maybe it's the individual status, to be the best that has ever come, to ever play the game."
McDavid's fourth goal said it all, going in off Kunitz's skate.
"I guess you can always say you scored one of his goals," Kunitz quipped. "It will be a good story to tell one day."