Back on the blue line

DEREK VAN DIEST, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

It was a case of not knowing what you have until it's gone.

Steve Staios was perhaps more noticeable by his absence than when he was in the lineup.

His value to the Edmonton Oilers became more apparent every game the veteran defenceman missed with a knee injury.

"It was very noticeable how much he helped us (in the) last game," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"Even on the game-winning goal, he's the guy that stepped up and jumped up into the play and created it. He was real aggressive standing up and he wasn't backing in. He made a big difference in our lineup the other night, it was obvious."

Staios sat out nine games with a strained knee, but was back for the Oilers' 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings Saturday.

He played almost 19 minutes, registered three hits, set up Ryan Smyth's winning goal and finished the night with a plus-one rating.

"I'm feeling pretty good. Considering I've been off for a couple of weeks doing rehab, I felt pretty strong out there," Staios said.

"The injury is not 100%. It's not really limiting, but there are going to be some times when I don't have that same push. It's nothing I can feel. Overall I feel confident that I can contribute. I felt good in that first games and hopefully I can build on that."

Staios is one of two veteran pillars on the Oilers' blue-line. Along with Jason Smith, the duo has a combined 1,496 regular-season games of NHL experience.

The rest of the Oilers defensive corps has combined for less than half of that.

"Stevie has been a big part of our team," said Smith.

"He's a guy that brings a lot of energy and he's obviously a good player. He's a big part of the leadership in this dressing room. His vocalness and his competitive nature brings a lot to our team."

Prior to his injury, Staios had played in 224 consecutive games for the Oilers. In 41 games this season, he has one goal and 13 assists.

However, it was Staios's leadership abilities and his defensive qualities the Oilers missed most.

That was the reason he returned earlier than expected.

"There's no guarantee that it's not going to happen again," Staios said.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting four to six weeks so it can heal."

The time off gave Staios a chance to recharge his batteries for the playoff push.

"You've been through this every year that you play, you go through a stretch where you're not as good as where you want to be," Staios said.

"The situation may change, but the down times always happen. You have to learn to handle it with some composure and you have to be calm about it.

"It eats you up inside when you're thinking about it, but once you get here and you're around the guys you can loosen up and get them ready to go for the next game."


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