DENVER — Their top six is now a top three.
And a team that wasn’t all that good when Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky and Tayor Hall were in the lineup must now try and win without them.
Being stripped of your three leading scorers in three days, when you’re already last in Western Conference offence, is enough to close the book on any team. Unfortunately, the season doesn’t end just because hope took the last train out of town. The Oilers still have six weeks left.
What they do with them will be fascinating to watch. Fascinating or painful, one or the other.
Cinderella story or pumpkin dropped from a three-storey window. It’s up them.
“We already have a couple of guys out, so he’s a big hit,” said Jordan Eberle, whose roommate Taylor Hall was the third strike, out for the season with a high ankle sprain after a fight with Derek Dorsett. “But we’ve kind of battled through injuries before so hopefully we can through this one, too.
“It’s tough to see him go down but we have to pick up the slack collectively as a group.”
And there is a considerable amount of slack to begin with, when a team is dead last in its conference.
“Our situation is no secret, where we are in the standings and who’s injured,” said Shawn Horcoff, as the Oilers headed out for the first leg of a five-game road trip that will give us a pretty good indication which direction this thing is going to go.
“We’re going to play hard till the finish and make sure that our fans know that it doesn’t matter who’s hurt or who’s gone, we have a lot of pride in the room and we’re going to show them 100% effort every game.
“If we’re able to do that we’re going to surprise some people. We still have a lot of good quality players in our lineup. If we can come out and play intense we can win any game against any team. We’re going to need good goaltending and we’re going to have to be really good in our D zone … we’ll see.”
Aside from Horcoff, only one Oilers forward — Andrew Cogliano (311) — has played more than 300 NHL games. The ages of the top nine forwards right now are 32 (Horcoff), 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 24, 25 and 26 for oldtimer Gilbert Brule.
“It’s a good thing that Horc is back,“ said Cogliano. “He brings a lot of stability to the room, especially at a time like this.”
It’s bad news for the team and for the fans, but for a lot of guys who’d been slipping down the depth chart or out of the lineup altogether, it’s their last chance to make a case for themselves,
Colin Fraser, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Sam Gagner, Steve MacIntyre … basically everyone with a question mark around his name going forward has a gift-wrapped chance to prove he can carry the mail.
“It’s tough, we have a lot of injuries to key guys, it’s just going to give guys opportunities to move up,” said Cogliano. “It’s obviously not going to help but we have to get through.
“Losing Hallsy is big. Hemmer, too. It’s going to hurt our offensive push. But the opportunity is there now for guys to step up.”
Hall’s decision to fight ended his season and his Calder hopes and left the team in a lurch, but there isn’t a guy in the room who didn’t like what he saw from the kid.
“It’s tough to see him get hurt,” said Gagner. “But it shows the kind of character guy he is and how much of a gamer he is. He makes a great play, throws a big hit and he goes back after Dorsett. He’s a special player. He kind of rises to those big moments and he showed it again.”