EDMONTON – Ethan Moreau might not be enough to end the futility and frustration the Edmonton Oilers have endured since he last played a game, but a jolt of leadership and desire can’t hurt.
Moreau will provide both when he returns against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday after missing 113 straight regular-season games because of shoulder surgery and a broken left leg.
When the Oilers’ captain leads his team into the Xcel Energy Centre, it’ll mark his first game since Oct. 21, 2006. How much have the Oilers missed him?
They’re 43-60-10 since Moreau last busted down the wing with his eyes ablaze, threw himself in front of a slapshot or dropped his gloves to defend a teammate.
That’s how much they’ve missed him.
“It’ll definitely be a big day for me,” said Moreau, who’ll pull on his jersey for a regular season game for the first time since being named captain Oct. 2. “It’s not something I take lightly.”
Moreau returns with the Oilers on a four-game losing skid after a 2-1 loss to Anaheim on Thursday. At 16-19-3, the Oilers are floundering as they try to stay in playoff contention in the Western Conference.
With four straight one-goal losses, the Oilers don’t score enough and they can’t hold a lead when they actually get one. The power play ranks 30th in the NHL. With the loss to Anaheim, the Oilers are 8-11-1 at home. Raffi Torres, Ales Hemsky and Matt Greene are out with injuries.
Moreau, 32, isn’t the answer for that litany of woes, but if accountability and determination to go down swinging means anything, the Oilers at least have a foundation on which to build.
“The way he plays, the heart, soul and commitment to the game shows,” said Sheldon Souray. “He’ll stick up for teammates. He’ll do whatever it takes. That’s something every team needs.
“We have a lot of guys who can wheel around, skate and move the puck, but we don’t have a lot of guys like him. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not coming back to save the day, to score 50 goals.
“His intensity is a quiet intensity. Guys look at it and go, ‘Wow!’ He’s a bit like Mark Messier. He’s like, ‘I’m going in, I’m getting that puck and I’ll knock your teeth out if that’s what it takes.’ That’s what we’re missing.”
Moreau missed the final 75 games of 2006-07 when the right shoulder he dislocated going after Detroit’s Danny Markov for a hit on Jarret Stoll required surgery. The Oilers went 27-41-7 the rest of the way, winning two of their final 20 games and missing the playoffs”.
After a summer of rehab, Moreau showed up for training camp champing at the bit, but he was hit high on the ankle by an Adrian Aucoin shot in a pre-season game in Calgary Sept. 22 and hasn’t played since.
“It’s been difficult because I miss not playing,” Moreau said. “As far as the (leg) injury, I didn’t really have a choice. It’s not something you can even think about playing through.
“My mindset when we’re winning as opposed to losing is like night and day. When I’m hurt and we’re winning, you feel good about yourself. You come to the rink and work hard. When you’re losing, you feel like you’re part of the problem.”
Coach Craig MacTavish’s lineup has been riddled by injuries since midway through last season. Stoll was lost to a concussion. Hemsky missed 16 games. This season, the losses of Joni Pitkanen, Greene, Fernando Pisani, Souray and, now, Hemsky and Torres, have contributed. The only constant has been the absence of Moreau.
“It’s obvious how we miss him and why we miss him,” Stoll said. “His physical play and his passion, there’s been games this season when we’ve kind of been sleep-walking out there.”
“Not enough intensity, not too much passion has been shown in some games. He brings that. He brings it every night. With him in the lineup, guys are going to feed off that.”
So can a third-line grinder come back after more than 14 months out of the lineup and make a difference?
“You don’t forget how to play,” Moreau said with a smile. “I’m not a guy who is running the power play. My game is pretty simple. I think I’ll be able to play and play well right away. The game hasn’t changed that much.”