CALGARY — It couldn’t get any worse for the Edmonton Oilers, right? Check that.
On Hockey Fright in Canada Saturday, we went from, “It’s broken,” to “X-rays were negative,” in a two-hour window that put a pit in Oiler fans’ stomachs the size of a Hart Trophy.
Connor McDavid was blowing by Calgary’s Mark Giordano on his way to the net when the Flames defenceman reached out and knocked the feet out from under the charging Oilers captain. McDavid careened into the goal post and goalie Mike Smith, and as McDavid lay there on his side, he appeared to mouth the words, “It’s broken.”
He was heard to yell in pain as he tried to put some weight on the injured left leg on the way to the dressing room. In the end, head coach Ken Hitchcock announced “X-rays were negative,” and McDavid would exit the Saddledome on crutches, scheduled for an MRI in the morning.
“He’s our go-to guy, he’s our leader,” said Leon Draisaitl, whose 50th goal was overshadowed, as was the Oilers 3-1 victory. “When you see him get hurt like that it stinks, it sucks. You never want to see that happen to any player, especially him. It takes you a second to realize what’s happening.”
The folks at Hockey Night in Canada clocked McDavid at 42 kilometres per hour, a speed at which physical harm becomes the cost of doing business. Giordano was apologetic, going as far as to say he would let McDavid go by if he had to do it over again.
But you can’t ask a beaten defenceman to just give up, even in Game 82. Not when McDavid is playing like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series.
Think about it: as the fastest hockey player in the NHL, nobody beats more defencemen wide than McDavid. Which means, no one gets tripped, hooked, and otherwise impeded at break-neck speed as often as he does over the course of a season. And of course, the physics say that when McDavid slides into a goal post, he hits it harder than anyone else, because he’s going faster.
Since breaking his collarbone as a rookie McDavid has been more careful to avoid car wrecks at the net, like this one.
“That’s for a reason,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s probably the best guy on his edges — he doesn’t go down easy. He’s strong on his skates.”
“Initially when it happened,” Sam Gagner said, “he thought — and we all thought — of what happened to (Steven) Stamkos. It makes you sick to your stomach to see your teammate go down like that. We’re just happy it’s not more serious.”
Stamkos broke his leg on Nov. 11, 2013, on an eerily similar play, an injury that caused him to miss the 2014 Olympics. He returned to the Tampa Bay lineup on March 6, an absence of just short of four months.
Training camp opens in about five months, so barring anything particularly dire from the MRI, McDavid may lose some training time, but hopefully will be ready to embark on getting his team into the playoffs next fall. We’ll guess the world championships are out, whether or not he was planning on attending.
When the X-rays showed no break, the relief was palpable among Oilers personnel in Calgary.
“You’re going between anger and rage and your heart broken for the guy,” said Hitchcock. “So to get some good news right now, we can breathe for a few hours. The MRI tells you everything, so we’ll hopefully get through the MRI but we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s a decent first step. It could be a lot worse.”
McDavid closes his season with 41-75-116, second in NHL scoring behind Nikita Kucherov’s 128 points. Draisaitl finishes with 50-55-105, good for fourth in league scoring.
The 22-year-old finishes one goal shy of Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Not a bad one-two punch.
You should be able to build something with those two.
“I’m happy about it,” Draisaitl said. “I was trying to improve my game since I was a little kid. I do that every day. If I said I’m overly surprised I don’t think I show much confidence in myself. I’ve been happy with the pucks going in for me.”