SUN Hockey Pool

Life without Ales

Ales Hemsky. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

Ales Hemsky. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

You know you should have stayed in bed when blowing a 2-1 lead with 16 seconds left and losing the most highly-anticipated game of the year to Public Enemy No.1, is only the second worst thing that happens that night.

But on the morning after, Edmonton's 3-2 loss to Chris Pronger and the Anaheim Ducks seemed wholly insignificant to an Oilers team wrestling with a much more significant loss ... that of gifted playmaker and game- breaker Ales Hemsky.

They don't know yet exactly how long he'll be out of the lineup with his shoulder injury, but all the signs yesterday were bad ...

His arm was still immobilized in a sling, the Oilers called someone up from the minors to replace him and head coach Craig MacTavish suggests we measure Hemsky's progress in weeks, not days.

Hemsky went for X-rays yesterday. A more complete diagnosis is expected today.

"Hopefully we'll be surprised,'' MacTavish wished out loud.

He knows full well the Oilers, with the exception of Ethan Moreau's shoulder surgery, aren't owed a heck of a lot from the Department of Good Fortune.

"We've been pretty lucky all season long, injury-wise, and now we're going to have to deal with a little bit of adversity.''

Indeed. And the potential for a little growing into a lot because of the seemingly innocuous hit by Sean O'Donnell is very real.

Hemsky is Edmonton's most skilled player by a Czech mile, their third leading scorer and the main reason their leading scorer, Petr Sykora, is off to a rocket start.

OFFENSIVE VEINS

Pluck him out of the lineup until, say, Christmas, and a lot of offensive veins could dry right up.

"For the team, it's a huge loss because he is, in my mind, the top skilled offensive player on the team,'' said Sykora, the recipient of all those sweet Hemsky set-ups. "He always takes so much pressure off the other guys because they have to really focus on him when he's on the ice.

"Obviously, you can't replace him. I've been in the league for a long time and I haven't played with a player like him. I have three or four big scoring chances every night because of him. I can hide and find that little spot in the slot, and with his speed and his skill he can find me there.''

For all the big hits Hemsky's taken in his career, it's ironic that a little rub out in the corner sidelines him.

"I was close to the boards and I saw (O'Donnell) was coming,'' said the 23-year-old winger. "But I was too close to the boards and he squeezed me. It kind of hurt. I tried to stay with it and make another pass, but it just didn't feel right.''

"It's painful, we'll see. I'm no doctor. It's always frustrating when you get an injury, but hopefully I'll be back as soon as possible.''

SLUMP SHAKERS

Had this happened two weeks ago, the Oilers would have been doomed for certain, but with Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Joffrey Lupul and Raffi Torres coming out of their slumps at the same time, there's hope the offence can still be effective.

"It's tough, but everybody has to deal with it, you have to suck it up,'' said MacTavish, who recalled Marc Antoine Pouliot from Wilkes-Barre of the AHL.

"It's not just lip service that we have some depth. Ales is a huge part of our team, but we've got to step up and still be productive without him.''

For Sykora, that means changing his game in a hurry, because whoever they put with him tonight against Colorado won't be able to wheel and deal like Hemsky.

"I have to adjust,'' admits Sykora. "I'm not sure if I'm going to be playing centre or the wing. Whatever position I'm put in, I have to create as much scoring-wise as I did when I played with Ales ... maybe from the cycle or whatever. It's another challenge.''

One he hopes doesn't last.

"I'm going to be putting extra ice on his shoulder so he can get back quicker.''


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