If the Edmonton Oilers
are going to end to a four-game losing streak when they host the Colorado Avalanche
tonight, they will have to do it without their best player in defenseman Ryan Whitney
Already without captain Shawn Horcoff
, out with a knee injury, and having just got Ales Hemsky
back from a 10-game absence, the Oilers lost Whitney to a right ankle injury in the first period of Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres
Whitney will be out a minimum of two weeks -- he'll be assessed by a specialist in Charlotte once the swelling in his ankle subsides to determine if surgery is required. No matter what the time frame, the loss of the big blueliner is profound.
Whitney, 27, leads the Oilers in scoring with 27 points, which has him seventh among NHL defensemen. He leads the team in average ice time at 25:20. He leads in plus-minus at plus-13. He's the quarterback of the power play and he kills penalties.
"I had an MRI yesterday and there's some damage, obviously, in my ankle," Whitney said. "I've got to wait about two weeks just to see the swelling go down. There's so much inflammation, (the specialist) can't say for sure, yet, what's going on."
Whitney had surgery in the offseason to repair an abnormally high arch of his right foot. He had the same surgery on his left foot while with the Pittsburgh Penguins
Whitney says this injury is not related. The same specialist who did his previous procedures will determine if surgery on his ankle is required.
"For three years, I was pretty much kind of unhealthy and playing mediocre hockey," Whitney said. "This year, I finally felt real good and back to the player I know I can be.
"You finally feel good about yourself as a player and you're starting to really gain momentum for the next part of my career, and then this happens. It's obviously frustrating."
The Oilers, 15th in the Western Conference, will lean on Tom Gilbert
, Ladislav Smid
, Kurtis Foster
and Theo Peckham
for more ice time. Veteran Jason Strudwick
will have to play more, as will rookie Jeff Petry
, recalled from the AHL before the game against the Sabres.
"He takes up a lot of big minutes," Gilbert said. "It's going to be a case of the entire defensive corps having to step up."
Nothing special: This game features a matchup of the bottom two penalty-killing teams in the NHL. Colorado is ranked 29th at 75.9 percent, while the Oilers are 30th at 72.3.
Around the rink:
The Oilers have lost three of their last four games at Rexall Place, where they're 6-9-2. … Colorado has lost three straight games and sits at 9-6-3 on the road after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings in Detroit on Monday. … The Oilers won the first meeting of the teams this season as rookie Taylor Hall
scored with 29 seconds remaining in regulation for a 3-2 win on Nov. 25. … Devan Dubnyk
will start in goal for the Oilers. … Gilbert Brule
returns after sitting out four games with the flu and will play right wing on a line with Magnus Paajarvi
and Ryan O'Marra
in place of Linus Omark