Wimpy Oilers getting sand kicked in their face

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Quote-unquote, Craig MacTavish: "We didn't have a lot of toughness in the line-up. The one guy we had was laying on the ice motionless."

The subject was the hit by Jordin Tootoo which sent Mathieu Roy head-and-shoulder first into the boards and effectively all the way up to the press box to join the other Oiler blueliners Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Matt Greene with long-term injuries.

Translation: "My team doesn't have any guts. We're not tough enough."

Sure, MacTavish didn't dress Zack Stortini against the Nashville Predators.

He's the middleweight MacTavish occasionally calls on or calls up from the minors as the team tough guy.

But MacTavish doesn't have enough guys with wearing those wimpy new Oiler uniforms. The coach desperately needs to have some brave hearts here to ride beside the talented trio which will eventually take the Oilers from the bottom rung of the standings where they sit this morning to much greater heights.

The skill of Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Andrew Colgliano needs to be matched with some intestinal fortitude if they're going to be able to get the space to create the goals.

Watching Oilers get plastered into the boards every game is every bit the story this season as is the loss of four defencemen due to injury, the failure of the powerplay and the inability of lines to click because they're changed every night.

Ales Hemsky is performing minor miracles to try create some space for himself out there, trying hard to take his game to the next level, but is getting rocked by guys like Minnesota's Derek Boogaard.

You think Hemsky might not enjoy the odd shift with Dave Semenko right now?

Friday night against Nashville, MacTavish put out Sam Gagner on the same line as Andrew Cogliano. That might be a fun pair of players to watch playing together for the rest of the year or maybe even career if they had somebody else on the line with some guts to play with them.

As one fan put it to me the other day, the Oilers way of standing up for each other right now "is to send over Shawn Horcoff to cry and pout for them."

Once in a while, you get an e-mail from a fan with words the local sports columnist should have already written himself. I got a few of those yesterday. Fans weren't so upset at the mistakes a guy like young Oiler defenceman Denis Grebeshkov made playing all those minutes in the game as the lack of true grit.

"Every time you turn on the highlights you see players sticking up for their bread and butter players, playing tough hockey. Then there are the Oilers. It embarrassing the way they shy away from the physical part of the game. Get in there and hit and muck it up!" e-mailed one frustrated fan after Friday night's game.

The fan correctly identified the Oilers as a team of softies, a team which would rather turn the other cheek than seek and destroy.

Size isn't the problem.

The Oilers have 6-ft.-2, 245-lb. Dustin Penner. Actually, right now, he might actually be 265 lb. but that's another column. But so far, since the Oilers made him rich beyond belief, he's shown a mean streak which matches Mary Poppins.

Marc Pouliot is 6-ft.-2 and 200 lb. but plays mostly like his last name is Poulet.

What the Oilers are really missing here is Ethan Moreau, a guy who hasn't played here for so long you forget he's still an Oiler much less their captain. Moreau has got guts. He's got jam.

That's what the Oilers need most. Guys who can play who have great big balls.

I'm not sure where the Oilers are in the league when it comes to hits, but it's probably down there where the powerplay sits.

It's a lot less painless to hit than get hit.

MacTavish is a big believer in team toughness. But right now, he doesn't have any.

The fans are bang on. There's not enough bang here. This team isn't tough enough.


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