ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Edmonton Oilers were already scuffling when their season took another early turn for the worse, an upper body injury that sidelined team captain and three-time NHL MVP Connor McDavid.
Alternative methods of motivation for the Oilers were clearly preferred to this expected absence of 1-2 weeks after the five-time scoring champion suffered an unspecified muscular injury late in the third period of their overtime loss Saturday to Winnipeg.
Perhaps this will be just the jolt the Oilers needed.
“It’s obviously a huge loss to our team. It definitely leaves some opportunities on the table for guys. I think it’ll be good for the squad, too, just to be a little bit more hungry,” left wing Dylan Holloway said.
The Oilers (1-3-1) were just 23rd in the league with an average of 2.6 goals per game entering their game Tuesday night at Minnesota. Without McDavid, who led the NHL with both 64 goals and 89 assists last season, the pressure to score has increased on fellow star Leon Draisaitl.
Production from forwards like Zach Hyman, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be needed, too.
“It’s never fun when you have the best player in the world and he’s not playing for your team because he’s injured, but it’s a big opportunity for the rest of the group to pick our game up,” said Hyman, who’s tied for third with Nugent-Hopkins on the team with six points. “There’s a lot of ice time available, and it’s a good opportunity for our depth to get showcased and for guys who want more of a role to grab it.”
The Oilers on the ice without No. 97 is a strange sight, even if for a mere handful of games. After missing 37 games as a rookie in the 2015-16 season because of a broken collarbone, McDavid has played in 578 of a possible 591 games including the playoffs since then.
“Obviously, you don’t replace the best hockey player in the world, but what you’re looking to do is to fill those 21 to 22 minutes that he plays a night with valuable contributions from some other people,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “So what an opportunity it is to show what kind of team we are and for some individuals to step up and take a little bit more responsibility.”'
The Oilers haven’t won it all since 1990, the last of their five Stanley Cup championships in a seven-year span. They haven’t reached the final since 2006. Since McDavid arrived eight seasons ago, they’ve only won four series and advanced past the second round once. Edmonton fans endured a lot of lean years after the Wayne Gretzky era, and there's no such thing as a patient wait for the next championship now that McDavid is already in his ninth season.
“Our start wasn’t the best, but I think the potential we have on our team to be great is there,” Holloway said. “We’re definitely, I think, inching towards winning lots of games.”
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL
Dave Campbell, The Associated Press