They're battered, bruised and will likely play a man short tonight but the season marches on for the Edmonton Oilers as they open a three-game California road trip in Anaheim tonight (8:00 p.m. MST, Sportsnet).
Defencemen Jan Hejda and Steve Staios were both injured on Wednesday against Tampa Bay leaving the team with only four healthy defencemen. With only one other blueliner in the system - Bryan Young - the team has no choice but to go with five rearguards tonight.
The only other option is to call up defenceman Sebastien Bisaillon on an emergency basis from Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He's the only other Oilers defenceman under contract but there are concerns with bringing up a junior-aged player including the possibility of losing a year of waiver and arbitration eligibility.
"We'll go with 17 skaters against Anaheim and play Toby (Petersen) on the back-end to give us six defencemen," stated head coach Craig MacTavish yesterday.
The six-man set then would consist of captain Jason Smith, Matt Greene (100 career games), Ladislav Smid
(62 gp), Danny Syvret (14 gp) and two players - Young and Petersen - who have both never played a full game on defence at the NHL level.
"I feel pretty comfortable out there. As games have worn on in past seasons I've found myself back there creating some offence," said Toby Petersen of playing a new position. "I'd never put myself as a defenceman on a personal information sheet but I've played some D quite a bit in the past."
If that wasn't enough of a challenge, the flu bug is also making its rounds through the dressing room. Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen are both ill in addition to Petersen and J-F Jacques.
"What I worry about most now is a flu bug hitting us. We had four guys sick against Tampa. It's not the violent thing that hit against Anaheim in the playoffs last year, but we're really vulnerable to a flu situation."
Because the team is using a forward on defence in Petersen, they cannot call up another forward and as a result will likely only have 11 skaters up front barring a last-minute attempt to change the NHL's mind on the matter.
A roster ravaged by injuries, bit by the flu bug and one skater short should pose an interesting challenge for the team tonight.
On the other side, it's been a bit of a roller coaster season for the Anaheim Ducks. They flew out of the gate as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 16 games without a loss in regulation time (12-0-4).
They continued to build on that fast start as their record improved to 27-4-6 just before Christmas but since that time they've been barely a .500 team.
Key injuries at that time to goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and star defencemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer played a big role in the team's post-Christmas woes.
The club had only eight wins in its next 25 games (8-13-4) and saw its once-tight grip on top spot in the Pacific Division start to slip a little.
Recently, the team has found its game again with a 5-0-1 record in its last six outings.
"Wins and losses are something that you evaluate after the season," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said, downplaying the team's recent upswing. "When you're in the midst of it, we want to win every game. That's a coach's mandate. Is it realistic to expect that? (No), but that's the way we prepare. We think that as an organization we're continuing to try to push for us to become an elite team, and these are the steps."
On Wednesday, Anaheim gutted out a 2-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes. Shane Doan scored 31 seconds into the game to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead but Anaheim defenceman Ric Jackman tied it up five minutes later with his second goal of the season.
The game-winning goal came with eight minutes to go in the third period as Joe DiPenta - another defenceman and unlikely hero - also scored his second of the season.
It wasn't a pretty goal for DiPenta, who has five in 136 games in his NHL career. His wrister from the point had pinball-like accuracy as it went in off Coyotes forward Fredrik Sjostrom in front.
"They were giving me a good razzing as I came in and joking with me because of the type of goal I scored," DiPenta laughed. "Some guys were asking if I've practiced my pool shots a lot."
This is the final meeting of the season between Edmonton and Anaheim. The Ducks have won twice and the Oilers once.
ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton - Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Marty Reasoner (shoulder) is out. Steve Staios (knee) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Mathieu Roy (concussion) is out. Tom Gilbert (concussion) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Ales Hemsky
(shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out. Dwayne Roloson (flu) is probable. Jussi Markkanen (flu) is probable. Toby Petersen (flu) is probable. J-F Jacques (flu) is probable. Anaheim - Todd Marchant (abdominal strain) is doubtful. Chris Pronger (broken toe) is out.
OILERS TO WATCH: Toby Petersen will be one player to keep an eye on to see how he adapts to his role on defence. He played some shifts on the blueline in an early December game against Columbus and again on Wednesday versus Tampa... Another defenceman to watch is Bryan Young. He started the season in Milwaukee of the AHL, was sent to Stockton of the ECHL before being called up to Wilkes-Barre in recent weeks. He's started to look more comfortable recently with the Penguins and will make his NHL debut tonight.
DUCKS TO WATCH: Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been almost unbeatable at home this season with a record of 19-1-4 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Despite missing close to a month due to injury, Giguere is tied for fifth in the league in wins... Dustin Penner has been red hot of late for the Ducks. He currently ranks third among rookies in goals (24), second in shots (183) and fifth in points (38). He has five goals in his last five games.
FAST FACTS: With 91 points, this is only the third time in Ducks history that the team has eclipsed the 90-point mark. They reached the total with their win on Wednesday, game 67, which is the fastest in history. Last season the team hit 90 points in game 74 which was the previous team record... The Oilers now have 11 rookies on their roster after the recall of Bryan Young. They include: defencemen Young, Ladislav Smid
, Mathieu Roy, Tom Gilbert & Dan Syvret and forwards Marc Pouliot, Patrick Thoresen, Brad Winchester, Zack Stortini, Jean-Francois Jacques and Kyle Brodziak. Nine of those rookies will comprise the team's 17-man unit this evening.