MacT: 'We can overcome'

Oilers coach Craig MacTavish is positive his team can weather the injury storm. (SUN MEDIA...

Oilers coach Craig MacTavish is positive his team can weather the injury storm. (SUN MEDIA FILE/Walter Tychnowicz)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:38 AM ET

It was a humiliating pie in the face last season, the long and winding stretch dive that saw the beaten up, and beaten down, Oilers lose 18 of their last 20 games.

But Face Plant '07 is turning out to be the gag gift that keeps on giving.

The worst season in franchise history already yielded the draft pick that turned out to be 18-year-old Sam Gagner.

He alone almost makes those six weeks of agony worthwhile.

And now, as the injury-prone Oilers add another key player to the pile of broken bodies outside their dressing room, they're hoping all that March Badness will pay off again.

They hope all the suffering they endured last year left them better equipped to handle it this time ... because ready or not, it's happening all over again.

'BETTER POSITION'

"We're in a lot better position this year to deal with it," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, after Matt Greene, out two months with a badly broken ankle, joined fellow defencemen Sheldon Souray (separated shoulder) and Joni Pitkanen (arthroscopic knee surgery), along with forwards Ethan Moreau (broken foot) and Fernando Pisani (colitis) on the victims list.

"This could come back to haunt me and I don't normally throw these out there, but I'm not all that worried about the injuries on the back end right now. With what we have healthy, we're going to be able to overcome it."

Not a lot of teams could handle losing three of their top four defencemen, but MacTavish is betting his team can.

"I'm not concerned about the defence in the way that I was last year, that's for sure. We're a lot deeper back there now and we can move the puck."

If they manage to weather this storm, it'll be due in no small part to the experience young blueliners Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and Mathieu Roy gained during last year's storm.

Letting Denis Grebeshkov get comfortable, despite some costly learning experiences early this season, helps, too.

So does opening training camp with nine NHL-calibre defencemen, you know, just in case.

"I'm pretty confident in our defence right now with the emergence of Gilbert and Grebeshkov," said MacTavish.

"Smid played well last game. I have no reservations about putting Roy in, I think he's ready for it at this stage of his career.

"On paper it doesn't look like we have a lot of experience but the way they're playing, they're playing with a lot of poise. I think we can overcome it."

Overcoming it, in this instance, means not falling so far out of the playoff picture that by the time the veterans return it'll be too late. Go 2-18 and the season is over by Christmas. Play .500 and they can still be in the mix.

"We're still a good team," said Souray, who skated for the first time yesterday and has mid-November circled on his calendar as a return date.

"If we can stay afloat and hold the fort down until some guys start coming back, then we're going to give ourselves a better chance. But once you get on the decline it's hard to play catch up."

LESSONS FROM LAST YEAR

Gilbert, who might not even be in the NHL right now if last year's injury situation hadn't forced the Oilers into giving him that extended audition, says a lot of the lessons they learned during last year's bitter finish will help them avoid a similar collapse this year.

"We can't let these injuries make us think that we're not a good team anymore, that we're losing all these good players," said the 24-year-old. "I think it's more of a mental aspect. Stay positive, keep doing the things that we've been doing these last three or four games and build on that ... and hopefully not get scored on with 24 seconds left."

Smid, one of the few defencemen who stayed healthy last season, played a ton of minutes last year and will have to do so again. He's already getting flashbacks as he watches the bodies pile up around him.

"A little bit, but it's not that bad yet," he said. "It's hockey, that happens ... unfortunately it always happens to us."


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