With the Edmonton Oilers on a scheduled day off Sunday, and with no MD shingle to accompany any of us media folk, we’re only speculating what part of Connor McDavid’s body was ailing him as the clock ticked down in Saturday’s loss to Winnipeg.
But, we now know it’s an upper-body issue, according to an Oilers statement, and he’ll be out for one to two weeks, which means the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium is likely a no-go for McDavid Oct. 29. If it’s a week, he’ll miss just three games against Minnesota, the New York Rangers and Calgary outdoors. If it’s two weeks, add in Dallas and Nashville at Rogers Place.
As he skated off, he was holding the left side of his torso, in what looked like the oblique muscle area from a layman’s eyesight (check it out on Google), but, again, we don’t know that, for sure. What we know is his last shift was after face-off with the OT winner Mark Scheifele in the 15th minute of the third period and a bit of jostling.
But McDavid was also seen holding his side after a violent battle with Jets’ best defenceman Josh Morrissey along the boards in the first period. So, maybe his problem got worse as the game went along? Or not.
What we know for sure is this:
In this anatomy of a hurting start to the season, with the Oilers having just three points in five games (only Anaheim and San Jose have fewer in the entire league), and only one W, they can ill afford to miss 97 for a shift, never mind a game or more if they tell us he has an injury that is more than mild. Again, we don’t know if it’s an oblique muscle problem, could be something else, although coach Jay Woodcroft did say it was “muscular.”
And that was the area McDavid, who has eight points in the first five games, was holding as he skated off after his 22nd shift of the night Saturday in the 3-2 loss to the Jets.
The oblique muscles connect the ribs, top of the hip bone and fascia of the abdominals and lower back. They control the bending and twisting of the torso. Even if it’s a strained oblique, rest is required. It isn’t a day-to-day injury.
But, again we’ll wait for the Oilers medical update. If you’re looking for past injury results for the team without McDavid, he missed two weeks in February 2020, and the Oilers went 3-2-1 in six games he was out.
Here’s some other observations from this tepid early Oiler season.
1. If McDavid’s out, the fall-back is Leon Draisaitl, with his three 50-goal seasons and four seasons of more than 100 points. He easily becomes the No. 1 C after being on 97’s wing. The other 31 teams should be so lucky. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can be the No. 2 obviously, although he is perhaps better on left-wing in the top six.
But they need more from Ryan McLeod if he’s the No. 3. Yes, cut him some slack because he missed all of the exhibition season with a soft-tissue issue — his problem, the team’s concern. They need more from McLeod, other than his foot-speed which challenges McDavid. In five games, he doesn’t have a point, just three shots and is 38.5 per cent on face-offs with 25 wins in 65 draws.
2. The Oilers aren’t the only good to very good team struggling. Seattle gave Colorado all they could handle in the playoffs last spring, and they have the same three points in six games. Just one win. And the Cinderella Panthers, who got all the way to the Cup final last spring, are scuffling along at 2-3, just losing at home to Vancouver.
What is most gob-smacking for the Oilers? They’re leaking goals (20) but they’ve scored 13 in the five games, and six came in their only win in Nashville. Detroit has 24 in the same five games. The Canucks have 20, also in five. Only seven even-strength goals in five Oiler games, disturbing. Last season, Oilers had 218, third best; only Boston (231) and Buffalo (221) had more.
3. For the fifth straight game, no goals in the third period. The Oilers are the only team in the whole league that has been bageled. San Jose, Washington and St. Louis have two. That’s the next lowest. Yes, small sample size. But last season, Oilers had 100 third-period goals. “Can’t explain that. Obviously there are moments in a lot of those games where we could have used that goal in the third period,” said Woodcroft.
4. There’s lots of try in Connor Brown, Zach Hyman Lite, and after missing 78 games last season after ripping up his knee in Washington, he deserves patience. Maybe we look at him in another month but, for now, he has four shots, no points and is playing 15 minutes a night. Again, his sweat equity is just fine. But no offensive uptick.
5. Shots on goal? Expected wins, expected losses. The last two Hockey Night in Canada Saturday games, the Oilers had 40 vs Vancouver and 40 vs Winnipeg and left with two Ls. They outshot the Canucks and back-up Casey DeSmith 40-16 and lost 4-3. They outshot the Jets and one of the NHL’s top five tenders in Connor Hellebuyck 40-27 and lost 3-2. In their only win, the Predators outshot them 43-20. Oilers 6, Nashville 1 because of Jack Campbell.
6. The Oilers are in the penalty box too much, often with undisciplined stick penalties, 22 minors in all in five games. Only 11 teams have taken more. It was the same story last season, folks, with their 300 minors. That was seventh worst and we know Oilers don’t kill them well enough (77 per cent, 20th overall in 2022-23). This year, they’re 71.4 per cent or 24th.
On Saturday, Mattias Janmark, who should know better as a good defensive forward and penalty-killer, took two stick infractions in the second period. One was at centre (slash on Mark Scheifele), the other 180 feet from the Oilers net on Nate Schmidt. Janmark doesn’t have a point in five games. Has he built up enough offensive currency to do that?
“Certainly there’s moments in the game where we can control our sticks better but I thought the penalty-kill did a heckuva job (against Winnipeg just six shots allowed in five PKs),” said Woodcroft.
7. Taking away the error when he skated out of his net on a charging Alex Iafallo and lost the race and the Jets scored, Stuart Skinner looked like the goalie who finished second to Matty Beniers in the rookie-of-the-year balloting. That’s a good sign. He made a terrific stop on Rasmus Kupari in alone after Philip Broberg’s stick was lifted in the second period. He was calm and collected except for leaving the net, which stung, obviously. Calm and collected after the game too.
“I believe we’ve scored enough goals to win games, it’s just a matter of, at least in my two games, of me keeping the puck out of the net. If I do a little bit better at my job, I think we’re able to win those games. It’s not always up to the guys scoring the goals. Especially when it comes down to crunch time,” said Skinner.
8. While we can talk about that gruesome wrist injury to Evander Kane for his rightful struggles to score (11 in his last 27 regular-season last year but no goals in his last 11 if you count the Vegas playoff loss and the first five games this season), but his legs have been a bit of a concern this year. But not on Saturday against the Jets. Kane was good, involved, on the puck, hitting, around the net, also fighting Brenden Dillon.
Strong stuff. But Kane is like so many other Oiler forwards right now. No goals, just one assist, albeit he does have 11 shots, sixth best of the forwards. But he’s minus 6, not good, obviously.
9. Next up on the Oilers calendar. A road game in Minnesota Tuesday. The Oilers have won 36 of 100 career games against the Wild and only have 227 goals in those 100.
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