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Oilers' fast start stunted by injuries, illnesses

Sunday, 11.22.2009 / 1:00 AM / Quarterly Report

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"We went through an incredible month here battling H1N1, concussions to major players like (Sheldon) Souray, (Steve) Staios and (Ales) Hemsky. A couple of the players we implemented from the grit and balance standpoint in J-F Jacques and Ryan Stone are still out. It's been quite a test for our group here." -- Steve Tambellini

Seriously now, what are Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini and coach Pat Quinn supposed to do?

Complain about inconsistencies? Yell at players not producing enough? Bag skate them?

Sure, they could do all of that, but it wouldn't necessarily be right, not when injuries and illnesses have run through the Oilers like a brush fire.

The number of man-games lost grew to an almost unspeakable 129 Saturday. That's astounding considering it's more than half the Oilers' number from last season (225) and we're just 25 percent of the way through the season.

It's no wonder why the Oilers, 6-2-1 through their first nine games, had won just three of their previous 13 games before Saturday's home game with Chicago.

It's no wonder they were allowing nearly five more shots per game than they were taking.

"We went through an incredible month here battling H1N1, concussions to major players like (Sheldon) Souray, (Steve) Staios and (Ales) Hemsky," Tambellini told NHL.com. "A couple of the players we implemented from the grit and balance standpoint in J-F Jacques and Ryan Stone are still out. It's been quite a test for our group here."

And it's still going. Ten key players missed practice with various ailments after a 6-4 win against Colorado Wednesday. They all didn't miss Saturday's game, but you get the picture.

"We had a really good camp and a very strong start and I like the look of our team and I like the balance of scoring and grit," Tambellini said. "The focus now is keeping the group together."

It hasn't been easy, especially when it looked like the epicenter of flu season was the Oilers' dressing room.

Ladislav Smid was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu and at least four others have missed games with the regular flu. Mike Comrie had two bouts with it and now he's out with mononucleosis.

The Oilers' scoring has been inconsistent due to all of the injuries and illnesses. They had 35 goals through their first nine games, but just 29 in the previous 13 heading into the weekend. That included three shutouts and two one-goal efforts.

"The scoring will come when we have more balance in our lineup and that's just getting some bodies back," Tambellini said.

They scored six against Colorado Wednesday, a game in which eight players who started the season on the NHL roster were sidelined and also featured injuries to Ethan Moreau and Liam Reddox.

Par for the course for this team so far, though both played Saturday, but still Wednesday was a night when you could see what Tambellini means when he says he likes his team.

"When you're watching the game from up top you can see overall energy in the team," Tambellini said. "You can see the way people move and sustain it, and the last couple of games you're starting to see signs of that coming back."

Dustin Penner has players every game, and the oft-maligned winger has turned fans into believers with his scintillating play this season.

Given a fresh start under Pat Quinn and Tom Renney after a tumultuous two seasons under former coach Craig MacTavish, Penner is having a season befitting his rather hefty contract -- he has 12 goals and 23 points in 22 games. There have been dozens of stories written about his breakout season locally and nationally, including right here on NHL.com.

"You've got to be proud of a guy that has taken so much criticism over the last year or two," Tambellini said. "Guys can go both ways. They can sulk and say it's not working for me or they can do what Dustin did. He retrained his body physically, and mentally he came with a great attitude. Pat Quinn presented a great opportunity for him, telling him he would get ice time in so many areas as long as he proves he's committed. He's been our best forward, for sure."

Penner could sure use some help. He needs healthy teammates for that.

"You want to see what your team looks like when you're healthy," Tambellini said. "That part I am really looking forward to."

He will have to wait a little bit longer.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
Quote of the Day

I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years. We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

— Jordan Eberle on taking his game and the Edmonton Oilers to the next level