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Canuck-chasing Oilers could be without McDavid

Superstar centre misses practice, listed as day-to-day
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid waits on a face off during an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars on April 3, 2024, in Dallas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tony Gutierrez

The race for top spot in the Pacific Division could come down to the final day of the NHL season. But it could be impacted by an injury to the league’s reigning most valuable player.

Connor McDavid did not practice Tuesday, and coach Kris Knoblauch said he would consult with the centre on Wednesday, ahead of the home date against the Vegas Golden Knights. The coach listed McDavid’s status as “day-to-day.”

The coach said McDavid’s absence at practice was due to a combination of “lower body” and “maintenance” issues.

McDavid entered Tuesday’s NHL action third in scoring with 130 points, including a league-high 99 assists.

The Vancouver Canucks are five points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for top spot in the Pacific Division. But, even though there are less than two weeks left in the NHL regular season, that lead is far from insurmountable.

The Oilers have six games left, the Canucks have just four. And the two teams will face each other one more time this season, at Rogers Place in Edmonton. So, even though the Oilers have points to make up, they enter the season’s final stretch knowing that they are in control of their destiny when it comes to the title.

Win the two games in hand, beat the Canucks, and it’s advantage Edmonton.

But the Oilers’ decision to be cautious with McDavid proves that the team’s brain trust is more focused on being in the best possible shape for the post-season than winning the division title.

“The most important thing is playoffs, that we are ready,” Knoblauch said. “I think we’ve got depth. You’re never going to replace Connor, but we’ve got healthy bodies.

“We want to make sure everyone is healthy as much as possible going into the playoffs.”

The Oilers have had multiple games in hand on most of their close rivals for the majority of the season and will finally make it up down the stretch. The team finishes with six games in nine days. After Wednesday’s game with Vegas, the Oilers host Arizona Friday and the Canucks on Saturday, a game that could have a huge bearing on the Pacific Division title.

The Oilers players understand the balance between wanting to win the division and making sure the team is fresh for the post-season. But 52-goal-scorer Zach Hyman said he’s seen plenty of teams get on a streak before the playoffs then carry it over into the post-season.

If the Oilers follow that pattern — the team is coming off an impressive win over Colorado and a victory in Calgary — they would win the division simply as a byproduct of getting hot at the right time.

“I think they’ll go hand-in-hand,” Hyman said. “Obviously, there’s things we’ll change depending on the standings and whatnot. But we want to win the division if we can. I think it’s pretty attainable right now.

“It’s always good to have something to play for down the stretch. You want to keep that competitive fire. It’s always important to go into the playoffs playing your best.

“These last six games, even if it’s in a short window, we have to plan to play like we will in the playoffs.”

Leon Draisaitl, who has 102 points this season, said there’s “fine line” between going full-bore for the Pacific crown and making sure the team is close to 100 per cent for the first series of the post-season.

“You definitely don’t want to get yourself tired for the start of playoffs,” he said.

“(The division title) is certainly worth it. But, again, there’s a fine line. We want to continue putting up points and continue to win and give ourselves a chance at winning the division. That being said, you don’t need to exhaust anybody going into Game 1.”

Draisaitl noted that, no matter who finishes first, there are no easy first-round match-ups in the West. Whether it’s the Nashville Predators, the Los Angeles Kings or the defending Stanley Cup champs from Vegas, it’s a matter of pick your poison.

“You’re not going to get a team that’s not good. So, it’s just a balance of continuing to sharpen up our details, have good habits down the stretch, and make sure we carry that into the playoffs.”

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