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Oilers trying to weather storm of crippling injuries

by Roger Phillips

Sheldon Souray has not played since Oct. 13 because of a shoulder injury.
It might have been unrealistic to think the Edmonton Oilers would accomplish an overnight turnaround this season.

After all, not much has gone right in Edmonton since the Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.

Since then, star defenseman Chris Pronger was granted a trade request and was dealt to the Ducks. Heart-and-soul forward Ryan Smyth was traded away as well when the Oilers gave up on keeping him off this past summer’s unrestricted free-agent market.

The Oilers promptly collapsed after Smyth’s departure, and spent this summer digging out of the hole. They seemed to be making progress, too.

* They proved wrong those who said a premier free agent never would choose to play in Edmonton when they signed defenseman Sheldon Souray.

* They traded for a talented young defender in Joni Pitkanen.

* They created a sensation when they achieved the rarity of signing a restricted free agent, Anaheim forward Dustin Penner, and actually having him end up on their team.

* They added some excitement by keeping rookie forwards Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner around.

* They won their first two games.

And then they started losing and suffering an incredible rash of injuries on the blue line.

After the opening victories, the Oilers had only three wins in their next 13 games. They had sunk to the bottom of the Northwest Division, and though they were hardly buried, the outlook did not appear bright.

Souray has not played since Oct. 13 because of a shoulder injury. Pitkanen injured a knee one week later and is expected to miss another month. Defenseman Matt Greene broke his left ankle this past week and will miss three months. And a few days ago, defenseman Mathieu Roy separated a shoulder and will miss six weeks.

“This is unbelievable,” General Manager Kevin Lowe told reporters.

Before Roy was hurt, coach Craig MacTavish insisted he wasn’t concerned.

”These (comments) could come back to haunt me and I don’t normally throw these out there, but I’m not all that worried about the injuries on the back end,” he told the Canadian Press. “From what I’ve seen, with (who) we have healthy, we’re going to be able to overcome it.”

MacTavish might want to put his remaining defensemen – Steve Staios, Dick Tarnstrom, Ladislav Smid, Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert – in a protective bubble. And clearly, the Oilers need reinforcements, perhaps beyond minor-league recall Bryan Young.

Though MacTavish was doing what coaches sometimes must do – try to be positive about a difficult situation – some of the Oilers’ players seemed a bit more realistic.

”Obviously things haven't gone the way we would have liked,” center Marty Reasoner told the Edmonton Journal. “We feel if we had our full arsenal and time for everybody to jell, we’d be a pretty good team.”

The problems weren’t limited to the defense. Penner was off to a slow start, and left wing Ethan Moreau – named the captain before the season – had yet to play this year because of a broken foot. In fact, other than this preseason, Moreau has not played in a game since Oct. 21, 2006, when he suffered a shoulder injury just seven games into last season.

Including Monday night’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota, the Oilers had won only seven of their past 36 games – four of those wins in the shootout – dating to last season.

“We’re in a scenario now where we’re trying to plug the holes in the boat as much as possible before we sink,” Reasoner said. “We’re trying to get ourselves back in the race so that when we do get those guys back, we’re going to be in position where hopefully we can go on a run.”


Who’s hot – Thirteen games into the season, the Wild’s Marian Gaborik scored just his second goal. Gaborik also had an assist, but those were the only two times Minnesota scored in a 3-2 home loss to the Blues. Gaborik continued to show signs of heating up later in the week when he scored twice and added an assist in a 4-1 defeat of visiting Calgary. But a sore groin sidelined Gaborik for Monday’s win over Edmonton. Mark Parrish scored two power-play goals in that game, and the Wild scored four with the extra man. … The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, combined for six points in a 4-3 victory that was Colorado’s first home-ice loss of the season. … Second-year Avalanche forward Wojtek Wolski, who scored 22 goals as a rookie, scored his fifth this season in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh. … Marek Svatos scored twice and Paul Stastny recorded his 11th and 12th assists in the Avalanche’s loss to the Canucks. Stastny then scored twice in a defeat of Calgary.

Shootout summary – No Northwest team was involved in a shootout this week, but the Oilers should shudder to think where they’d be without the 3-year-old tiebreaker. Where they would be is even worse off than they already are. Including Monday night’s 5-2 loss at Minnesota, the Oilers had won only seven of their past 36 games dating to last season, but four of those victories came in the shootout. Under the pre-lockout system, where teams were rewarded with a point for overtime losses, the Oilers would be 2-10-3-0 this season, and 3-27-4-1 factoring in the final 20 games of last season. Yes, folks, three non-shootout victories for the Oilers in their last 35 games.

If every game went to a shootout, however, the Oilers might be unbeatable. They have won all three this season and five straight dating to last season. The big key has been goaltending; opponents have failed to score on 13 of 15 shots against Dwayne Roloson and on both attempts against Mathieu Garon during the Oilers’ streak of five-shootout winning streak.

Rumor mill – The Oilers aren’t the only ones hurting on defense. The Canucks once were deep on the blue line, but not anymore. They lost Kevin Bieksa (lacerated right leg) and Sami Salo (puck to the face) in a loss to the Predators. Lukas Krajicek already was out with a foot injury. The Canucks recalled Luc Bourdon from their AHL affiliate, and may be forced to seek help elsewhere. The Ottawa Sun reported the Canucks are listening to offers for captain


Markus Naslund, who has a no-trade clause in his contract. … Though TSN says nothing is close to happening, the network listed the Canucks and Oilers among teams looking to make a trade. The Canucks want to add a forward to one of their top two lines and reportedly had three representatives at a recent game between the Canadiens and Thrashers. The Oilers’ defense corps has been ravaged by injuries to Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Matt Greene. As a result, the Oilers might seek blue-line help. … Before Greene suffered a broken left ankle on Oct. 30, an injury that will sideline him for three months, the Edmonton Journal had reported that in spite of the injuries to Souray and Pitkanen, the Oilers might be willing to part with Dick Tarnstrom and his $2-million salary. The possibility of trading Tarnstrom may have vanished, at least for the moment, with Greene’s injury and the subsequent one to Mathieu Roy. The Journal mentioned the Thrashers and Rangers as potential trading partners with the Oilers. … The Ottawa Sun’s weekly rumors included the possibility of a deal that would send Oilers forward Raffi Torres to the Blue Jackets, whose GM is former Oilers assistant GM Scott Howson. … According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, veteran forward Wes Walz may be considering retirement. … The Edmonton Journal reported that the Avalanche and Wild are among the teams that might be interested and have the salary cap space should the Thrashers opt to unload prospective unrestricted free agent Marian Hossa.

The week ahead – A heavy dose of division play continues as November enters its second week.

The Flames host the Canucks on Thursday, the Oilers on Saturday and the Wild on Tuesday.

The night after visiting Calgary, the Canucks will be home against the Avalanche, then are not on the ice again until hosting the Oilers on Wednesday.

The games in Calgary and Vancouver are the Oilers’ only games of the week.

The Wild will be at Colorado on Sunday and at Calgary on Tuesday as part of a four-game road trip that visits each Northwest city.

The Avalanche’s only games are the aforementioned contests at Vancouver and at home against Minnesota.


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