Hiatus hasn't eased Oilers' lineup pains

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

It probably isn't a good sign that in the final practice before the most important stretch drive in years the Oilers couldn't scrape together enough players to make a team.

Between the injured, walking wounded and bagged-out Olympians, Craig MacTavish could barely cobble together a 14-man skeleton crew, and three of them were goalies.

This, after a two-week break in which to get healthy, and on the eve of a 24-game, 48-day sprint that will tax his roster to the limit?

'YES AND NO'

Should we be worried?

"Yes and no," said the head coach, who has a few players resting up, a few who are out for sure and a few sitting on the fence. "When you have so many guys out, there's good news and bad news most days. But the mindset for a lot of the guys not being here is just making sure they're ready (tonight).

"It's always a little demoralizing to have so few players out there, but given the circumstances we shouldn't read too much into it."

At least not until he pencils in his lineup for tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues, and he admits he won't be able to do that until he sees who's healthy enough to make it through the morning skate.

"We're all anxious to see how we play, it's a bit of an unknown commodity to us," he said. "We haven't been in this situation before where we've had to put our team together on the morning skate."

Ryan Smyth, Chris Pronger and Ales Hemsky will be back at it today - tired but ready - while Jason Smith (broken toe) and Ethan Moreau (sprained ankle) are out. Mike Peca (groin injury relapse) is doubtful, while Raffi Torres, who went into the break healthy and came out of it with a sore groin, is a game day decision. Fernando Pisani missed practice with a sore back.

"Guys are dropping like flies," said Jarret Stoll, one of yesterday's few able-bodied skaters. "Hopefully one day will make a difference."

If not, winger Brad Winchester and centre Yan Stastny are up from Hamilton and Iowa to help fill the voids.

"It's crazy," said Marty Reasoner, recovering from a bruised lung. "I went from feeling like I was going to check into the hospital four days ago to being one of the healthiest guys on the team."

We'll see how it all shakes down this morning, but Peca and Torres, because groin injuries can go from a slight twinge to a month-long ordeal in one stride, will be under close watch.

"He felt better today," MacTavish said of Peca.

"He skated before practice and felt OK. We decided not to push it and see how it feels in the morning skate. He's iffy for sure."

Radek Dvorak missed two games with a sore groin earlier this year, thought he was fine, came back for two periods and was out for 13 games - so the Oilers will definitely err on the side of caution after that.

"Once something like (a nagging groin) starts, with the schedule we have, you can never really get over it because there's never a chance for it to heal," said Reasoner.

50-50

Staying healthy, which boils down to 50% preparation and 50% luck, is going to be vital to Edmonton's playoff chances. With only seven weeks left in the season, and a game every other night, there just isn't time to get hurt.

"Health and rest are going to be pretty prominent in dictating who comes out of it, who excels in the last little bit," said MacTavish. "We're getting healthy. The good news is Jason and Ethan are not far away."

The bad news is that, ready or not, the sprint to the playoffs starts tonight.

"I'm sure there's going to be some guys missing some games but we just have to have other guys step up," said Stoll. "You have to get through it. Stay positive and pick up your game. We're a strong group of guys in here who can get through it. We know we can."


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