SUN Hockey Pool

Captain close to return

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:21 AM ET

Ethan Moreau skated on the third line with Kyle Brodziak and Jarret Stoll in practice yesterday, leading to speculation he'll make his debut as captain tonight against the Anaheim Ducks.

But Moreau and his coach threw cold water on the hot topic as quickly as they could.

"I won't play (against Anaheim), but I'm very close," said Moreau. "I just need a couple of practices where I'm battling. Some physical play is the only thing I'm missing now. I've really only had one full practice."

Between the tibia he broke in training camp and shoulder he injured last year, Moreau hasn't played a regular season game since Oct. 21, 2006.

"Hopefully this game will be the last one I miss," he said. "That's exciting for me."

The Oilers, down a few quarts of grit all year, could definitely use him.

"Hopefully I can provide that," he said, adding he'll be close to 100% when does come back. "I'll be able to play physical up front and I'll be able to do that right away and hopefully that will help us. When you see me on the ice I'll be doing everything I've always done. I'll be physical, I'll be on the forecheck, skating hard. I won't have any limitations out there."

HEMSKY STATUS UNCERTAIN: The Oilers don't know much about Ales Hemsky's knee yet, only that he won't be playing tonight.

Hemsky was injured when Chicago's Martin Lapointe stuck a knee out on him Sunday at the United Centre.

"He's feeling about the same as he did leaving Chicago, not a lot of improvement so far," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "We need a picture just to confirm that it's nothing structural. We're not even going to speculate until we get the picture."

Hemsky didn't have the puck, and didn't see Lapointe, when the cheap shot came.

"I thought it was a dirty hit," said MacTavish.

"Any time you get the knee out with a guy who's unsuspecting, who'd moved the puck, it's dirty. That's all I can say about it."

Hemsky's taken a ton of abuse in the last two seasons. Earlier this year he was run head first into the boards by Calgary's Robyn Regehr, but Oilers brass refuse to subscribe to the theory that a lack of toughness puts their skill guys at risk.

"You can read a lot of needless stuff into it," MacTavish said. "I don't think it's a product of not having the physical toughness for retribution, if that's the concern. That's Georges (Laraque's) propaganda machine."

Sam Gagner will fill in on first line right wing till Hemsky is healthy.

"Till he gets a little more proficient in the faceoff circle, maybe it's a situation where he needs to play some wing," said MacTavish.

OFFENCE GOES AWOL: For a while there in early and mid-December, the Oilers looked like they finally found some hands. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight put together a string of games in which they scored 5, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 4 goals. They went 5-2-1 in that span and climbed to ninth in the Western Conference standings.

In the last four games, however, the Oilers of old have returned. They scored 1, 1, 1 and 2 goals in the last four, three of them losses. They're now sitting 13th.

"We were having a lot of success when Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner and Fernando Pisani were chipping in on a regular basis," said MacTavish, pointing to Nilsson's eight game point streak that ended Dec. 15 against Vancouver. "You get an extra goal a game from those guys and really that's all we're lacking. It's been pretty lean in the couple of games we've lost.

"The first line has been good, but we need some other offence every game from the second, third or fourth line," said MacTavish. "If we get that we'll be OK offensively. But if the second, third and fourth line aren't creating anything, then we'll be looking at one goal games every night."


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