CALGARY -- What could be harder than playing for the Oilers this season?
Ask Ethan Moreau. Powerless, after shoulder surgery in the second week of the season, to help his friends and teammates - and with nothing to look forward to when he was finally healthy - the year has been a total writeoff.
"It was hard initially when I knew we weren't making the playoffs, when it wasn't looking good," said Moreau, looking ahead to the final game of the regular season tonight in Calgary. "When we were doing OK and still in the playoff hunt it wasn't that big a deal because I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.
"I'd trained for three or four months to get to this point in the season, where I would have started playing, and then the realization that the playoffs weren't going to happen, that was the hardest part for me - not to play the whole year, and now it's over."
Moreau squared off to fight Detroit's Danny Markov in the seventh game of the season, missed with a punch and dislocated his shoulder. The surgery cost him the last 75 games of the year.
His targeted return date is April 15, the first round of the playoffs.
"My surgeon would have let me play a little earlier if it would have helped my cause," he said. "But it's never been to the point where I'm healthy and I'm not playing, I've never been cleared to play."
Seeing his teammates so beaten down isn't easy, especially when there's nothing you can do to help.
"It was difficult because we had such a poor season. Just watching the guys I played in the finals with having to go through this. It's been painful for these guys, a mentally-gruelling year for them.
"But some of those guys should be really proud of themselves the way they handled the season. Guys came to the rink every day and had a professional attitude."
One thing is certain, the events of this season have lit a fire under a player who was never short of hunger or commitment in the first place.
"It's all going to help me in the long run," said Moreau, who's been skating with the team for a few weeks, and even participated in a 45-minute bag skate on the trip, even though he had nothing to do with the loss that necessitated it.
"I've practised hard, I've worked on my game a little bit.
"I expect to be a better player when I come back. I'm excited for next year. I'll definitely be the fittest and most prepared to play in my whole career next year."
WHO TO WATCH
FERNANDO PISANI, OILERS
Scored both Edmonton goals the last time these clubs met.
M. KIPRUSOFF, FLAMES
Edmonton can't score lately. If he's on his game, that might be all Calgary needs.
The Oilers haven't scored in 172:48, since a Raffi Torres goal in the first period April 1 in Chicago ... Petr Sykora has been on the limp with a bad hip the last while and is questionable for tonight's game with the Flames. If he can't go, Rob Schremp will dress in his place. But if he's able, MacTavish will sit out Schremp and go with a veteran in a game with huge playoff implications for Calgary ... The Flames have won the last four meetings, 4-2, 4-0, 3-1 and 4-2... Dwayne Roloson will start in goal for the Oilers.
FLAMES: Darren McCarty, RW, sports hernia; Richie Regehr, D, concussion; Robyn Regehr, D, leg (day to day).
EDMONTON: LW Ethan Moreau shoulder; D Daniel Tjarnqvist, groin; C Jarret Stoll, concussion; D Jan Hejda shoulder; D Steve Staios knee, Mathieu Roy concussion.