Golden Knights forward William Carrier was first in the NHL in hits when he suffered an upper-body injury during a Feb. 16 game against Nashville.
He’s now fifth, 34 hits behind league-leading linemate Ryan Reaves. But Carrier, who missed 14 games before returning Saturday against Detroit at T-Mobile Arena, has more on his mind than making up ground on the stat sheet.
“I just have to get back to working the way I was and get ready for the playoffs,” said Carrier, who played with Reaves and Tomas Nosek on the fourth line. “It’s going to take a lot of intensity and work and just getting my feet moving. But there is a sense of urgency to do that.
“It’s been horrible not being able to play. Our line was playing really good hockey, and I was having one of my best years. It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do.”
Carrier said the Knights’ recent play — 10 wins in their past 11 games while he was out — made watching a little easier.
“When you’re injured and they’re losing and you feel like you could help make an impact and you just can’t do it, it’s so tough,” he said. “Right now the boys are playing unbelievable.”
It will take at least one more game for Carrier to get back in sync with his full line. Nosek was playing in place of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury that Bellemare called “minor.”
Knights forward Valentin Zykov also returned to the lineup in place of Brandon Pirri, making his first appearance in more than a month and playing on the third line with Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter.
Zykov had been a healthy scratch in every game since Feb. 9 and had appeared in six games since he was acquired off waivers in December.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s wife, Veronique, gave birth to the couple’s third child Friday, a team spokesperson confirmed after Veronique posted a photo on social media early Saturday.
“He’s here,” she wrote with a photo of the 21-inch, 9.3-pound child. “The new love of our life, baby James Fleury.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said the baby’s arrival won’t have an impact on Fleury’s status. He has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury.
“It’s actually real good timing,” Gallant said. “He’s getting a lot better, and we’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent. He’s doing good today, and he’s working out. Hopefully, he’ll travel with us (for games Monday at St. Louis and Wednesday at Colorado). If not, maybe he’ll join us on the trip or shortly after that.”
The Knights have no realistic hope of catching Calgary for first place in the Pacific Division and aren’t in much danger of being caught by Arizona for third, so a playoff series against San Jose appears inevitable.
There’s still a chance of catching the Sharks and getting home ice, and defenseman Nate Schmidt said he’s paying attention.
“You always have to be cognizant of who’s behind you,” he said. “But when you worry about who’s behind you, you can’t focus on what’s in front of you.”
Schmidt then proudly jumped from his seat in front of his locker and celebrated the profound statement he had stumbled upon.
“I hope you recorded that,” he said.