The ‘other’ Alberta team also plagued by late-season injuries

The rebuilding Edmonton Oilers expected a few bumps on the road back to respectability but never imagined having to endure a rash of injuries that has turned the stretch drive into a roller-coaster ride.

Edmonton Oiler Jordan Eberle (14) tries to get the puck as he is checked by Pittsburgh Penguin Maxime Talbot (25) in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday

Edmonton Oiler Jordan Eberle (14) tries to get the puck as he is checked by Pittsburgh Penguin Maxime Talbot (25) in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday

EDMONTON — The rebuilding Edmonton Oilers expected a few bumps on the road back to respectability but never imagined having to endure a rash of injuries that has turned the stretch drive into a roller-coaster ride.

Edmonton’s best defenceman, Ryan Whitney, was lost months ago to ankle surgery. Rookie Taylor Hall had a season-ending high ankle sprain while Sam Gagner is done after a freak hand injury. And on Monday, the team announced Ales Hemsky will require season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a damaged labrum.

“Obviously, the process takes a bit of a shift, but it’s still the process,” said coach Tom Renney. “Adversity is a part of every single team’s season, no matter what.

“For us, as with most teams, we’re suffering some injury things, but it’s not uncommon for anybody. What we have to do is learn how to deal with that as a group.

“First, as a coaching staff and how we manoeuvre our lineup. As an organization, in terms of how we call people up and who we might call up to help continue to grow this thing and provide opportunity at the same time. To educate ourselves on what we’ve got.”

With a roster that was thin and laden with youth to start the season now punched full of holes, the Oilers face their final 12 contests, starting against Phoenix on Thursday, in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

The Oilers are last overall in the NHL — where they finished last season — with a 23-38-9 record. They’ll limp to the finish line with a mix of minor-league call-ups, rookies and veterans having missed the playoffs for a club-record fifth straight year.

“This is a great opportunity for us to establish our identity even more,” said forward Ryan Jones. “We wanted to be a team that was going to work hard no matter what. We knew we were going to face adversity at some point.

“With guys out of the lineup, you fall back on your work ethic, your pride, your character and those are the things that define teams. It’s a great opportunity for us right now to show we have an abundance of that.”

While the Oilers won’t come close to the franchise-record 521 man-games they lost to injury in 2009-10, they’ll easily surpass 200 games this season. What hurts, too, is most of those lost games involve key players.

They’ve currently lost 194 man-games to injury, with Hemsky and captain Shawn Horcoff to add to that total. Horcoff, who already missed a long stretch with a sprained knee, has a cracked bone in his left ankle that will keep him out about 10 days.

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