SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers in 'survival mode'

Oilers Dustin Penner and Sam Gagner look for the rebound from Red Wings Jimmy Howard during an NHL...

Oilers Dustin Penner and Sam Gagner look for the rebound from Red Wings Jimmy Howard during an NHL game in Edmonton, Oct. 29, 2009. (Jason Franson/Sun Media)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:59 PM ET

BOSTON -- The old adage is probably true -- that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger -- but it remains to be seen if the Edmonton Oilers will come out of this dead or strong.

With a revolving sick bay of players either coughing up lungs or bed ridden with the flu, three of their best defencemen down with illness or injury and seven of their next eight games on the road, the Oilers have been fortune's whipping boys since opening night.

Some of the adversity is self-inflicted, like Nikolai Khabibulin's own goal in Game 1, and some of it isn't, like the Steve Staios concussion in Game 2, Sheldon Souray's in Game 3 or Ryan Stone's knee injury in Game 8.

The season is 13 games old and 10 players have already missed games, and that doesn't even count Ladislav Smid, who played through swine flu.

"You don't choose what happens to you as a group," said Patrick O'Sullivan, whose shootout winner Thursday saved the club from what would have been an absolutely devastating fourth loss in a row. "Injuries happen. Guys get sick. All you can do is try to deal with it the best you can.

"It's hard when you get all that thrown on you at the beginning of a season, but through it all we've done a pretty good job of it. It would be easy to make excuses.

"I don't think we've done that. When we haven't played well we've accepted it and tried to improve.

"We've looked in the mirror and said nobody's going to feel sorry for us, so there's no reason we should feel sorry for ourselves, so just go play. Play hard. See where it leaves us."

It's left them in OK shape. But now, with two minor league defencemen already on the roster, and some regular defencemen wilting from the additional minutes and responsibility, they hit the road for the better part of three weeks.

"I think it's good," said Andrew Cogliano. "This is a big part of our season right here.

"It's going to show exactly what our team has. On the road you usually get a good test of the character of the team. I think this is a big road trip for us."

They've shown good character and resilience to get to 7-5-1, despite being outshot, terribly in some cases, in 12 of 13 games.

So far so good, but they can't go on like this.

Blowing a 5-1 lead at home should be all the proof they need that their current style of play won't sustain them over the long haul. Not with their three best defencemen out.

"The giving up leads has to stop," said Ethan Moreau. "That can't be attributed to anything else but our lack of checking. It's happened a couple of times already and if we're going to learn from it, now is the time because this hasn't just happened once.

"In order to do that we have to play a responsible game where we're winning 3-2 and relying on our checking and hard work until we get some of our skill back."

Moreau agrees that if they survive all this, they will be stronger for it. When Souray, Staios, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Stone and Fernando Pisani come back and the rest of the room can take a full breath without hacking something up, the Oilers will benefit from the added responsibilities and lessons learned during these lean weeks.

The key is to not be so far behind when that day comes that it's too late.

"If we continue to get points and wins and find a way to stay where we are in the standings until we get help, yeah, we'll be in good shape," Moreau said. "Good teams find a way to keep their head above water when they're going through adversity and injuries; we definitely need to do that now."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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