LOS ANGELES — Considering he was expected to miss between seven and 10 games, the fact Connor McDavid will return tonight after missing just six NHL fixtures with a quadriceps injury would be good news for the Edmonton Oilers.
The fact that he returns tonight in Los Angeles in the heat of a playoff race? That is even better news for McDavid.
“We’ve definitely been in the position before where these points don’t matter, and we’re already out and planning our summer trips,” he said. “It’s definitely more fun to be in it and playing these important games.”
The Oilers went 3-2-1 in the six games missed by their captain, who went down in a game against Nashville on Feb. 8. The injury occurred in his left leg — the same one where he tore his posterior cruciate ligament at the end of last season — but it was quickly diagnosed that the two injuries were separate.
The bruised quad was enough to cost him some games, but compared to what he went through over the summer to rehab his PCL, it was relatively minor.
“It was, but you’ve got to treat every injury like it’s serious,” said the 23-year-old. “Make sure it’s fully healed and all that.”
It’s a boost to an Oilers team that was already light on top-end forwards when he went out, and has been carried offensively by the unit of Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. McDavid will play on a line with Sam Gagner and Alex Chiasson tonight, and just having him back will provide a jump in the Oilers collective step.
“He’s your captain, your leader,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “The impact he has on the games. The impact he has on the other players around him is immeasurable. You get a player like that back in your lineup? It’s a huge boost for everyone.”
McDavid watched his team play a solid first five games in his absence, allowing just 12 goals in the first five games, scoring 15, and going 3-1-1. Then they rolled out a much looser effort in a 5-3 loss to Minnesota on Friday.
“They’ve been solid — not giving up too much,” McDavid said. “Other than maybe the other night (against Minnesota) our game has been solid. It’s a credit to Tipp. With a lot of guys out he’s put in that structure, and a credit to the guys for buying in.”
“It’s adversity you don’t hope for, but when you get that adversity you see how your team reacts,” Tippett said of losing No. 97. “We have to play way better — with or without Connor — than we did against Minnesota.”
When McDavid left he trailed only Draisaitl in the scoring race for the Art Ross Trophy. He returns in fifth spot, his 81 points trailing Draisaitl (97), David Pastrnak (88), Nathan MacKinnon (84) and Artemi Panarin (83).
The Oilers find themselves right in the thick of things in the Pacific, while McDavid is still on pace for 109 points, seven less than his career high of 116 last season. He’ll start that pursuit tonight against the last place Kings, on a sheet of Staple Center ice that has been busy of late.
“A basketball game yesterday, hockey at night. A basketball game today, and we play tonight,” he chuckled. “I’m sure the ice won’t be great.”