EDMONTON – Bad news has gone hand-in-hand with bad results for the Edmonton Oilers this season, and Pat Quinn’s team got more to add to what has turned into a sizeable pile of it Wednesday.
Losers in 12 of their last 13 games after falling 5-3 to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, the Oilers announced that No. 1 goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will have surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in Los Angeles Thursday.
On the shelf since Nov. 16, the 37-year-old Khabibulin is expected to be out of the lineup 12 weeks – essentially the balance of the season – after rest and a cortisone shot failed to remedy the problem.
“Clearly, he wasn’t capable of even coming to the rink to participate in any fashion,” coach Pat Quinn said of Khabibulin. “So, we’ve been playing like he’s not here, or at least preparing like he’s not here.
“It just became official. There was always hope. Apparently in his past, just going on hearsay, the (cortisone) shots were able to take the pain away for him enough that he could participate, but that didn’t happen this time.”
Barring a trade, the loss of Khabibulin leaves Jeff Deslauriers and rookie Devan Dubnyk, who have been splitting the workload since Nov. 16, to tend the crease for the foreseeable future.
Deslauriers, 25, the workhorse in Khabibulin’s absence until now with 22 appearances in the Oilers last 24 games, gave up four goals on 14 shots before being replaced by Dubnyk in the loss to Nashville.
“I have to approach one game at a time,” said Deslauriers. “It’s every guy’s dream to play in the NHL and play as many games as I am playing right now.
“It’s been a tough stretch lately, but it might be a good thing in the future to have learned the hard way. Right now, for myself, I have to focus on doing the simple things and keeping it simple for me next start.”
Fresh from having a team golf trip cancelled in favour of what Quinn called a “mini-camp” last weekend, the Oilers are 1-11-1 in their last 13 games and are 15th in the Western Conference with a record of 16-24-5 for 37 points as they prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday..
“We just stay focused,” Sheldon Souray said of losing Khabibulin. “We can’t worry about who’s here and who’s not here. The guys who are playing each and every night just have to keep getting better individually.
“As a team, we’ll keep trying to grow. There’s no sense worrying about who’s not in and who we don’t have. The guys who are playing have to just keep going and try to turn this thing around.”
With 37 games remaining, the Oilers are already 16 points behind the Los Angeles Kings, who sit in the eighth and final playoff spot, and are destined to miss the post-season for the fourth straight year.
The Oilers have already lost their most talented player, Ales Hemsky, to season-ending shoulder surgery. They have surpassed last season’s total for man-games lost to injury or illness with protracted absences by Khabibulin, Hemsky, Souray (concussion), Fernando Pisani (colitis) and Mike Comrie (mononucleosis).
“I’ve been through times here we’re we’ve won 10 in a row and lost 10 in a row, or whatever,” Shawn Horcoff said. “It’s been tough.
“A lot of those times you can blame effort. A lot of nights, the effort has been here for us. It’s systems play. We’re breaking down in certain areas and we’re giving up easy goals. That’s the most frustrating thing. We’re giving games away more than having games taken from us.”
There’s no respite in site for the Oilers, who face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins before road for games in San Jose on Saturday and Colorado on Monday.
“We’ve said at the start, this is our team and we’re going to improve from within,” Quinn said. “That improvement will have to include those two young men (Deslauriers and Dubnyk).
“We’re preparing like these young men are part of our future growth and, hopefully, we can help them a bit more.”