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Hockey

Brayden McNabb is back and ready to help Kings make playoff push

Rickard Rakell, Brayden McNabb
Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb fights for position with Ducks center Rickard Rakell (67) as they chase down the puck.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A long road back from injury is familiar to Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb, but the view was much harsher this time around.

McNabb played his first game in two months Thursday, when he returned from a broken collarbone suffered before Halloween. It was the second major injury in his career following a broken kneecap near the end of his second season in the minors.

The difference this time was that it happened at the beginning of the season, and he could only watch as the Kings stumbled through other injuries to major players and a long slate away from home that dropped them to fifth place in the Pacific Division.

“It [stinks] being hurt, for sure,” McNabb said. “I missed quite a [big] part of it. I feel helpless. You can’t help your teammates. You’re not around. I was definitely super excited to get back. It was unfortunate we lost [Thursday], but we’ve got to turn things around here and go on a little run.”

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McNabb’s return was one of the few positives for the Kings as they end 2016 with a New Year’s Eve matchup against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. Although he’s a depth defender whose biggest asset is physicality, McNabb was projected to have a slightly bigger role following the loss of Luke Schenn to free agency. McNabb signed a two-year contract extension in June.

That changed on a hit by 6-foot-6, 226-pound Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 29. McNabb needed a metal plate to stabilize the collarbone. While his conditioning level isn’t an issue, he needs a few more games for the timing to sync.

“I expect more out of myself [Saturday] night,” he said.

That goes for his teammates too. They might not recognize Staples Center in their first game there since Dec. 10. The Kings went 3-4-2 on a nine-game stretch on the road and scored four goals total in losing the final three games. Most of their big guns are silent outside of Jeff Carter and they have averaged just two goals per game since Tyler Toffoli got injured.

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Friday was mostly for recovery after they got in late from Edmonton, Canada. They met briefly at their practice facility before only the third New Year’s Eve home game in franchise history.

“We’ve just got to find a way to score some goals and get some wins here,” Jordan Nolan said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s at home or away. It’s important for us to get some wins right now. But we’re happy to be back and it’s a big game for us.”

UP NEXT

vs. San Jose

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When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday. 

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.

Update: San Jose has won six straight at Staples Center, including last spring’s playoff series. The Sharks played Friday and are 4-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season, including a Nov. 30 win against the Kings. Before the game, the Kings will honor Jay Wells, Doug Smith, Charlie Simmer, Steve Bozek and Daryl Evans — goal scorers in the “Miracle On Manchester” playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers in 1982.

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