Toughen up, boys

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:12 AM ET

You've heard of moral victories? Well, some Oilers fans are wondering whether Edmonton's 2-1 decision over Minnesota qualifies as a moral defeat.

The biggest win of the season so far is being tempered by the fact that six foot-seven, 250-pound Derek Boogaard knocked Ales Hemsky, who was nowhere near the puck, into the middle of next week with a blindside hit, and the Oilers didn't do a thing.

Hemsky banged up the shoulder he injured earlier this season and stayed out of the game for fear he might be concussed (he wasn't).

"I didn't see him," said Hemsky, sporting a swollen left eye yesterday. "I was turning and all of a sudden I got hit. Nothing I could do. It was like getting hit by a train."

Asked if he was mad, Hemsky, who expects to dress tonight against Anaheim, replied: "If you want to play with the puck you'll take some hits, but you never expect a hit like that if you don't have the puck. It's tough to handle."

Edmonton scored what turned out to be the winning goal on the ensuing power play, but that, for some, wasn't enough. They wanted their pound of flesh and are angry that the Oilers came up 16 ounces short.

The growing concern in Edmonton is that ever since GM Kevin Lowe decided to join the growing number of teams that don't employ a policeman, opponents have made it their game plan to pound Edmonton's skill.

"The intent was to go out there and get Hemsky because he's one of our better players," said Ryan Smyth. "That's where Georges was a huge factor for us, a guy who would go out and settle that, but we don't have that now."

We know. The entire league knows. The question is, what are the Oilers going to do about it? They have a valuable commodity in the 23-year-old Czech, and need to keep him safe. Same goes for Smyth and Stoll and any number of players who shouldn't have to worry about four-minute-a-night goons sending them to the dressing room with little birdies floating around their heads.

"It's probably something we could do a better job of and guys probably realize that," said injured winger Ethan Moreau, adding anyone who challenged Boogaard would have been playing right into his hands.

"Whoever would have fought him would have lost, and probably lost badly, so what do you do?"

With the Lady Byng lineup Edmonton dressed against Minnesota on Tuesday, not much. "It's unfortunate that we couldn't answer it," said netminder Dwayne Roloson. "But we did answer it by scoring a power play goal."

And that's no small thing. A loss Tuesday, dropping them seven points back of the Wild and Canucks, could have ended Edmonton's chances for a division title right then and there.

"It's unfortunate for Hemmer, but the end result is that it won us a pretty critical hockey game," said assistant coach Craig Simpson. "That penalty allowed us to score the game-winning goal."

So the Oilers pick up an absolutely crucial win by turning the other cheek and scoring on the man advantage. It was a nice, neat ending on Tuesday, but it's not always going to work out that way. And the more it's allowed to happen, the more likely it is that one of those times Hemsky or Smyth won't just shake off the cobwebs and come right back.

And the less likely it is that the newer, softer Oilers will go very far in the playoffs, if they get there at all. One way or another, this team needs to toughen up, and if that means getting a little dirty, so be it.

"We don't have the one (enforcer), so we have to do the little things, like hit the other star players," said Roloson, a firm believer in the eye-for-an-eye theory. "We have to take the body a little harder on some of the other teams' key players."

Hemsky, because he loves to carry the puck, and go into high traffic areas, is always going to be a target. What the Oilers have to do is let opponents know they can try taking him out of the play, not out of the game.

"Your skill guys have to take a certain amount of punishment - it's just part of the game," said Simpson, who has the bad back to prove it.

"But collectively, as a team, absolutely, we have to be sure we don't allow anyone to come into our building, or be on the road, and feel like we're going to be intimidated."


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