Connor McDavid might have provided the Edmonton Oilers with the spark needed to ignite a serious run in the right direction.
The Oilers hope to build on their star rookie's triumphant return as they open a four-game trip Thursday night against the struggling Ottawa Senators.
In action for the first time since breaking his clavicle against Philadelphia on Nov. 3, McDavid had a goal and two assists to help Edmonton (20-26-5) beat Columbus 5-1 on Tuesday.
"He was the catalyst," coach Todd McLellan told the Oilers' official website, "and you have to have a catalyst if you're going to have success."
The latest in the Oilers' long line of recent - and in some cases underachieving - overall No. 1 picks, McDavid has made an impact with six goals and nine assists in 14 games. Edmonton, which went 14-18-5 during McDavid's absence, looked like a more determined team while snapping a three-game slide in his much-anticipated return.
''(Connor) set the tone for our team and our team followed,'' McLellan said. ''He had a hell of a night and we certainly missed him.
"I was concerned with him being the catalyst and our group sitting back and not participating. But they did, so we're maturing. It's a good thing."
Last in the Western Conference and 11 points out of the final wild-card spot, Edmonton would need to make a major push just to become a serious playoff contender. McDavid's presence provides a ray of hope, but he doesn't want to get too get caught up in the moment.
"I definitely didn't expect to be able to do that or play that kind of game," McDavid said. "I was very happy with how I felt. The timing and all that felt pretty good.
"It's one game though. I've got a bunch left."
Beginning Thursday on the road, where Edmonton is mired in a 1-6-3 stretch.
However, Ottawa (23-22-6) has yielded an average of 4.1 goals and allowed the opposition to go 10 of 27 on the power play while losing six of nine.
The Oilers went 2 for 3 with the man advantage against the Blue Jackets after going 1 for 13 in the previous six contests.
Though the Senators overcame an early 3-1 deficit to take a one-goal lead in the second period Tuesday, Craig Anderson faced a season-high 44 shots and allowed three goals to Sidney Crosby in a wild 6-5 loss at Pittsburgh.
"It's tough to win a game when you give up six goals," said Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci, who has two goals and five assists in seven games. "We gave up way too many. We found the back of the net a few times, but it wasn't enough. We gave up a few early and kind of killed the game early, right off the start."
Anderson has allowed nine goals in losses over the two games that followed a 35-save effort in a 3-0 home win over the New York Rangers on Jan. 24.
Ottawa's Bobby Ryan's string of six straight games with a point ended Tuesday. He had three assists as the Senators won both meetings with Edmonton last season.
Teammate Mark Stone snapped a season-high eight-game point drought with a goal and an assist Tuesday.