SUN Hockey Pool

Horcoff lost for 7-10 days

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

The answer comes straight out of the Pro Sports Cliche handbook, right next to "looking in the mirror" when things go bad, "total team effort" when things go good and "it must have been something in the supplements" when the test comes back positive.

When an important player is injured, the rest of the team rolls out the old reliable quotes about "stepping up."

Somebody has to step up. We all have to step up. It's an opportunity for a young guy to step up. Step up, step up, step up.

Somebody gets hurt and suddenly they're all doing commercials for Stairmaster.

Only right now, in Edmonton, the step isn't very high.

With one win in the last six games, three goals in the last five losses and a funk that's four lines and six D-men deep, it's not like they have to generate much lift when filling in for anyone who isn't Dustin Penner or Nikolai Khabibulin.

"We scored 16 even strength goals in the first five game segment, 12 in the second and we dried up and had four in the third," said head coach Pat Quinn, putting the downward spiral in convenient graph form. "Same guys."

Not exactly the same guys. Over the course of those 15 games, Oilers have been picked off like flies at a bullfrog party. One by one, from concussions to illness (insert irony joke here about a guy who owns a pharmacy company unable to keep his team safe from the flu), they've watched key guy after key guy fall by the wayside.

And, quite frankly, the stepping up has been minimal. Oilers players are having enough problems justifying their own presence, much less making up for someone else's absence.

So it was with rather nervous breath that they announced, sort of, that Shawn Horcoff is the latest victim of the bullfrogs. He has a shoulder injury, only they won't say what it is or how long he's out. Quinn said seven to 10 days, but admits it's only a guess. Now, with five points in 15 games, they're not exactly scratching heads, trying to figure out how to recoup all that offence, but there's always been more to Horcoff's game than goals, and he will be missed.

"He's a guy who can beat you a lot of ways," said Sam Gagner, who'll step into Horcoff's spot on the first line tonight against the New York Rangers. "He's really been a huge part of our team thus far, even if he hasn't put up the amount of points he's accustomed to. He's a huge hole to fill."

Faceoffs, penalty kills, not getting scored on all the time, and it's nice to have at least one centre who's old enough to see over a dashboard and order a drink in the U.S.

"If Horcoff is out (for an extended period), we've got four young kids in that position," Quinn said of Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule and Patrick O'Sullivan.

Not a six-footer in the bunch. He'd kill for a Ryan Stone right about now.

"He does simple things well, puts the puck deep, knocks other people off it, doesn't turn it over very often, responsible defensively, doesn't get out of position," said Quinn. "Yeah, I'd like a handful of those."

He's got a handful of something right now, and it's headed south. The latest injury doesn't help.

"We have got players who are learning about themselves right now -- 21-year-old kids who haven't figured this thing out yet. You've watched some of these guys grow.

"They were given jobs when they were 18, probably didn't earn them. In the meantime, the organization was asked to be patient while they grew and learned and clearly they're not there yet. And our older guys haven't been carrying it well enough. As you know, Horc was struggling."

And now he's out.

Step it up, anyone?

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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