SUN Hockey Pool

On edge of a black hole

Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray separated his shoulder in a fight and will be lost until...

Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray separated his shoulder in a fight and will be lost until mid-November. (Sun Media File/Darryl Dyck)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

PHOENIX -- It's just six games into the Edmonton Oilers' clean slate and they're already on a four-game losing streak, won't have a captain until his broken foot heals, might not get their colitis-stricken winger back this year and just lost the pride of their off-season rebuilding efforts to a separated shoulder.

And those awful new sweaters of theirs aren't looking any better with time.

Despite a revamped team, a refurbished dressing room and the concerted efforts of everyone in the organization to exorcise the demons of 2006-07, the dark cloud that cursed and tormented this franchise last year appears to have followed them right into their fresh new start.

You'll probably notice it as you're rolling your eyes, looking to the heavens and mumbling 'Here we go again.'

"It's really unbelievable," said defenceman Sheldon Souray, whose third-period fight with Vancouver's Byron Ritchie last Saturday cost him a separated shoulder that's going to keep him out of the lineup until mid-November.

"I don't think there's ever a good time to get hurt, but this is really not a good time. It's really frustrating. I'm comfortable with the team and I wanted to be a part of helping move things along here."

Things will continue to move along, as they always do, it's just a question of where they'll be moving to. Last year it was a 2-18 finish as the injured bodies piled up around them. And while this October looks eerily similar to last March, the Oilers refuse to believe they're headed for the same desperate fate.

"No, we can't think like that," insisted Ales Hemsky. "You have to stay positive. It's tough; we lost a big shot from the point, a solid D, but you have to deal with it. That's hockey, you lose guys."

"It's similar to last year in ways," added Jarret Stoll, "But things happen. You're never going to go through a season without adversity. Everybody goes through these types of things. That's what depth is all about on a team. That's why you need it. And we think we have it."

They'll need it because Souray, on the heels of Fernando Pisani's illness and Ethan Moreau's cracked foot, is a significant loss. Never mind the power play (which, at a 4% efficiency rate, can't possibly get any worse), he's logging 24:30 a night and can be an intimidating presence that will be sorely missed.

In hindsight, he wishes he'd walked away from Ritchie.

"Whenever guys lose any amount of time in these situations it's always, 'Maybe I could have or should have (not fought),' " said Souray, who had surgery on the shoulder last summer, but says this in an entirely unrelated injury. "But hey, it happened and we'll deal with it."

They have no choice. But this takes a lot of the wind out of their sails after an off day in Phoenix to build and bond as a team. It's like coming home from a weekend holiday to discover your dog died.

"It's going to be tough with those two out of the lineup," said winger Raffi Torres. "It already is without Ethan.We'll see what happens."

The next few weeks can't make the season, but it can break it. With two charismatic leaders out of the lineup, the threat of falling into the same black hole that swallowed them last season is very real.

They need to skate out in those unfinished pajama tops tonight and make certain that Wayne Gretzky's Coyotes don't make things any worse than they already are.

"We have to focus on getting the win, we need this win," said Stoll. "We know how quickly it can get to seven, eight games. It happened last year, it happened the year before that. Four games is plenty, it's enough. We feel we're going to bring our A game and get the two points here because it has to change."


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