If there were any questions about whether Connor McDavid was healthy and fit for the regular season, they were answered in the opener.
McDavid, who sustained a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the 2018-19 season, scored the go-ahead goal with 5:23 remaining as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the visiting Vancouver Canucks 3-2 on Wednesday night.
On Saturday night, the Oilers will play host to the Los Angeles Kings, who will join the Detroit Red Wings as the last two NHL teams to open the season.
The Kings will have to get up to speed while opposing McDavid, who said he is nearly at full strength.
“I’ve still got lots of kinks to work out in my game,” McDavid told Sportsnet. “I’ve been working toward it, but that goal means the world to me. Honestly, it was a long summer, and that just means the world to me.”
McDavid took a pass outside the Vancouver blue line, split two defenders and beat Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom high to the blocker side.
“He makes a lot happen out of nothing,” new Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s exactly what he did there.”
Added Edmonton winger Alex Chiasson of McDavid: “Just his presence — it gives guys a lot of confidence. It’s good to see he’s healthy and he’s confident in his body. I’m sure the rest will take care of itself.”
The injury news wasn’t all good for the Oilers. Defenseman Adam Larsson fractured his right fibula when blocking a shot late in the first period, and he is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks. Larsson stayed in the game, logged 22:19 of ice time and blocked three more shots.
“The guy is a workhorse just from the short time I’ve been here,” Oilers goaltender Mike Smith said. “He’s talked about as being that warrior on your team that guys look up to. He’s out there (Wednesday), not at 100 percent, and still battling for his team. When one of your big guns go down, especially on defense, it’s kind of a blow to our team, but I’m sure guys will get an opportunity to fill in and make up for his absence.”
The Oilers recalled defenseman Evan Bouchard from Bakersfield of the AHL to help fill Larsson’s void.
The Kings, who finished last in the Western Conference in 2018-19, will make their debut under Todd McLellan, the former Edmonton and San Jose coach.
They’re still led by forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, defenseman Drew Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick, all members of the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s a proud group that had a real tough season and is not happy about it,” McLellan said. “Does that mean we’re going to run away with things and win the Stanley Cup this year? No. But they’re a proud group that’s open to suggestions and trying new things.”
Even the players admit the team is in rebuilding mode.
“It’s just what we got to do,” Doughty said. “We’re a new team, we’re rebuilding, we’re going to be younger. We shouldn’t be surprised if we make trades this year. We just got to be better.”
–Field Level Media