Two of the NHL’s more high-profile injury absences should be coming to an end shortly. Both Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith and Chicago Blackhawks forward Jujhar Khaira are in play to return to their respective lineups this week. Sportsnet reports that Smith will be “available” on Wednesday, while relaying an Associated Press story that has Khaira could be ready to go on Saturday.
Smith, 39, has had a season to forget thus far but hopes that he can stay healthy the rest of the way for the Oilers. The veteran netminder has been out of the lineup for over two months with an undisclosed lower-body injury, which he calls “one of the most difficult injuries of my career”. Smith was injured back on October 19 in just his third start of the season and has not played since. He returned to practice briefly last month before returning to the injured reserve. This sounds less like an in-game injury and more like a nagging issue that became too much to handle, but has since been resolved to some extent. While Smith sounds eager to resume play, Edmonton will not attempt to rush him back yet again, which is likely why the team has not yet named a starter for Wednesday. Smith was excellent for the Oilers last season and will be a key piece of their success this season, but with rookie Stuart Skinner playing well behind serviceable starter Mikko Koskinen, the team does not need to rush Smith back or overwork him either.
The former Oiler Khaira, in his first season with Chicago, has neither the name recognition of Smith nor the lengthy recovery time. However, any time a player is stretchered from the ice his injury status becomes headline news. This was the case with Khaira, who was knocked out by a check from New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba on December 7. Khaira was sent to the hospital and has been on the injured reserve since while going through the NHL’s concussion protocol. Fortunately, it seems the big winger has dealt with what appeared to be a serious head injury rather well. If Khaira does suit up on Saturday, it will be just three-and-half weeks since he suffered the concussion, a stretch made even more tolerable for both he and the Blackhawks by postponements that have kept Chicago out of action since December 18. Khaira has missed just five games as a result.