EDMONTON, AB - You can't replace the best player in the world.
But the Oilers are going to have to.
Connor McDavid will be sidelined for the next 2-3 weeks with a quad injury beginning tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks after the news was delivered by President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Ken Holland prior to this morning's optional Oilers pre-game skate.
"When you lose your captain for a little bit of time here, it's a blow to the team," Mike Smith, who gets the start in goal tonight, said.
"We have to make sure we're not going the wrong way because of it. We want to grasp the situation, understand that it's not long term, and that we're in an important time of the season when we need points."
The Oilers are square in second place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights on 64 points - two games in hand on the trailing pack that tightened after wins for Arizona, Calgary and Vancouver on Monday.
The situation remains that despite lacking their captain, there's still a game to play against the Blackhawks with big roles to distribute among the remaining forwards - including top-line minutes and first-unit power-play duties.
"This game's important tonight," Zack Kassian said. "He's not in? Okay, who's up and who's going to make an impact and help us win the game here? That's the mindset we have to have every game. Different people have to step up.
"Obviously losing a guy like him, you're not looking too far down the road. You're thinking about tonight and there's a good Chicago team coming in here that's below us and we have to get the win."
Head Coach Dave Tippett has his group embracing its Training Camp approach of entering games with a single-team mentality, believing his team are in the best position possible this season to satisfy that with the omittance of McDavid from the lineup.
"I think this team has grown a lot," Tippett said. "There's been some adversity here and there, and I'm really interested to see how we come along here."
There's the impact not having McDavid in the lineup for the Oilers, and there's also the impact the injury has on McDavid himself.
Especially when you consider what the captain went through with his off-season rehabilitation.
"It's obviously frustrating for him," Darnell Nurse said. "He's had such a great season so far and has played at such a high level. Even coming after his serious injury in the summer, so I think it's frustrating for him.
"It's frustrating for us. But, again, we have to find ways to go around that and be productive and successful without him."
McDavid played 19:27 and registered an assist against the Nashville Predators on Saturday with his quad ailment, and even joined his team for practice on Monday early in the session before exiting after power-play work.
"You can see he doesn't want to get off the ice. He wants to be with us each and every day," Draisaitl said of the other half of the Dynamic Duo. "Even in practice yesterday, I'm sure he wanted to be out there the whole time. That's the kind of guy he is."
But make no mistake, no McDavid in your lineup leaves big holes.
"It's no secret. I think that would hurt any team when the best player on your team is out," Draisaitl continued. "Obviously it's going to be tough filtering in his offence or his ability to make things happen out of nothing, but I think we have the guys in here to compensate."
The German knows the need for him to continue his hot season as the League's leading scorer and strong stretch on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.
"I think it makes our team dangerous," Draisaitl said of driving his own line. "We still have the ability to play together, but our team looks deeper this way if we're on separate lines. It works for us. We've been winning games. We just have to make sure we keep going."
PLAY AS A GROUP
There's one positive you can confidently take from McDavid's absence.
It's a rallying cry for the dressing room.
"I think it'll bring our team together really out of respect for Connor," Tippett said.
The bench boss has drilled into his team's psyche since the onset of Training Camp the importance of playing as a single unit with a hard-checking approach.
That will take on added importance from now until the end of the season, with or without their captain.
"For us, it's going to be important to be tight-checking," Nurse said. "We've been preaching all year that we know at this time of the year, that's what wins you games. We have to stick with that."
The onus on the rest of the group to fill the gaps left in McDavid's absence will be an exciting challenge for Tippett's players, and one he thinks they'll be ready for.
"Even the top players when they go out, that creates opportunity," Tippett said. "Maybe not all the opportunity for one guy, but all the players to get more opportunities.
"We've stressed right from Training Camp that we have to play well as a team, do things well as a team, and this puts a test to that because you have one of your best players that's not going to be there to help out."
Lines will be made apparent during warm-ups, and Tippett was still mulling decisions at time of his morning availability in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room.
"We'll figure that out. Still working on it," he said.
"We only have 12 forwards right now, so they're all going to play."
OILERS (29-20-6) vs BLACKHAWKS (25-22-8)
TV: 7:06 p.m. MT; Televised on Sportsnet West
The Oilers and Blackhawks will meet at Rogers Place on Tuesday for only the second time this season.
Earlier in the season on October 14 at the United Center, James Neal cut a two-goal deficit to one on a late power play, but Brandon Saad added the empty-netter to hand the Oilers their first loss of the season with a 3-1 defeat.
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks are 13-4-2 against the Oilers.
The two sides wrap up their season series on March 5 back in Chicago.
Oilers team scope:
It wasn't a pretty win, but a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday came at the right time to stop a mini two-game slide for the Oilers.
Leon Draisaitl posted his league-leading 26th multi-point game with two goals and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two helpers as the Oilers claimed a vital two points to improve to 29-20-6 and second place in a Pacific Division.
The standings tightened on Monday night with wins from Arizona, Calgary and Vancouver.
The Oilers depart for a three-game trip on the East Coast against Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina after concluding three games on home ice on Tuesday.
Blackhawks team scope:
The Blackhawks are by no means out of it.
With a 25-22-8 record, Chicago sits five points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference after having given up five-straight goals in a loss to the Winnipeg Jets after leading 2-0 on Sunday.
Patrick Kane has a team-high 67 points (25G, 42A) through 55 games this season and at least one point in 14 of his last 15 games.
Tuesday is the first of back-to-back games for the Blackhawks that wrap up Wednesday in Vancouver.
By the Numbers:
The Blackhawks have earned at least a point in eight of their last 10 games, going 6-2-2. ... The Blackhawks are allowing an NHL-high 35.4 shots on goal/game this season.
The Oilers are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games and 17-2-2 when leading after the first period. ... Connor McDavid has 45 points (15G, 30A) in 27 home games this season, tied for the most in the NHL. ...
Draisaitl has now recorded points in 37 of his last 44 games, posting 69 points (25G, 44A), registering eight two-goal games and 26 multi-point games on the season. ...
OILERS - Joakim Nygard (hand) is on IR; Kris Russell (concussion) is on IR; James Neal (foot) is day-to-day; Connor McDavid (knee) is a game-time decision.
BLACKHAWKS - Andrew Shaw (concussion) is on IR; Calvin de Haan (shoulder) is on IR; Brent Seabrook (Shoulder) is on IR; Adam Boqvist (shoulder) is day-to-day.