Defenceless

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

It's a curse.

"The Curse of the Defencemen," said GM Kevin Lowe.

It was only two minutes and 56 seconds into the game last night when Jordin Tootoo pasted Mathieu Roy into the boards.

"It was his first shift," said Lowe, who would watch his team lose 4-1 to the Nashville Predators to go four games below .500 with the next four on the road.

Twenty-five seconds of ice time and Roy, who was out with a concussion at the end of last year and with another one at the start of this season, was out with what coach Craig MacTavish said was another possible concussion and for sure a separated left shoulder.

"You hate seeing that. Roy has definitely had a lot of bad luck," said Tom Gilbert, one of the five remaining survivors on the black and blueline.

The game before it was Matt Greene, out with a broken ankle. Sheldon Souray was first. Then Joni Pitkanen.

That's four.

"This is unbelievable," said Lowe.

You'd wonder maybe if Jason Smith put the curse on the defencemen for trading him.

But this goes back to the final 20 games of last year when Steve Staios, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Gilbert and Roy were out at the same time.

They had to call up a junior, Sebastian Bisaillon from Val-d'Or for two games on an emergency basis. There was no one left.

Bryan Young was playing down in Stockton when he was hauled to the front of the bus and told he was going up. He figured that meant to Wilkes-Barre.

They told him he wasn't leaving California. The Oilers were on a West Coast road trip in Anaheim.

Lowe had nine defencemen here.

"We thought we had enough," he said.

"We weren't keeping nine because we were gun-shy," said Lowe, who will wait until Springfield plays tonight to decide whether to bring up Young or Danny Syvret.

The plan, it would seem obvious, was to trade a couple when a team found themselves in injury trouble. That team turned out to be Edmonton.

"I don't remember anything like this. It sure didn't when I was playing.

None of us got hurt that much," he said, forgetting that he set some sort of NHL record for number of concussions, but seldom missing many shifts except that one night when Flames trainer Bearcat Murray got to him first and asked him what town he was in. When he answered "Vancouver" he was done for the night.

Those were the days when somebody got "his bell rung" and would often not know what town he was in.

One of the great quotes in hockey history was when Ted Green was coaching the Oilers and Shaun Van Allen didn't know who he was and Green told the trainer "Tell him he's Wayne Gretzky."

Nobody told Roy he's Bobby Orr.

Defensive coach Charlie Huddy said he's not only never seen anything like this in terms of the number of injuries, but the length of time they'll be out of the line-up.

"It's not like these guys are out for two or three games. It's so disappointing because this year we were really excited about our defence. But they keep going down."

They can't even dress Huddy, who is only a couple years older than Chris Chelios.

"I never filed my retirement papers. I ended my career in Buffalo. If it comes to that, we're in trouble," he said of the team which cost the Sabres $50 million to keep restricted free agent Thomas Vanek.

Head coach Craig MacTavish watched his remaining five defencemen all get the heebie jeebies as soon as Roy went down, handling the puck like a hand grenade all night, particularly Denis Grebeshkov, who played 25:40. Rookie Tom Gilbert played 27:05.

"It's too tough a game when you're not scoring to give goals away," said MacTavish.

Another disturbing thing, to many, was that nobody filled in Tootoo. Nobody went after him when Roy lay on the ice.

Tootoo stayed on for the next shift and nobody took him then either.

"He launched Matty," said MacTavish.

"But it was a pretty clean hit. It wasn't malicious. It wasn't a real dirty hit. I didn't expect any guys we had left to go fight him.

"We didn't have a lot of toughness in the line-up. The one guy we had was laying on the ice motionless."


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