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Rash of injuries to defence corps testing Oilers early in the season

EDMONTON - The talk when training camp began was that depth on the blue line might be the Edmonton Oilers' ace-in-the-hole this season.

That's a card the Oilers are going to have to play now as they've lost third-year rearguard Matt Greene to a broken left ankle that will keep him out of the line-up as long as three months.

Greene, injured in the second period of a 2-1 loss to Detroit Tuesday, will need surgery. He joins Sheldon Souray, out since Oct. 10 with a sprained left shoulder, and Joni Pitkanen, out another month after surgery to repair damaged knee cartilage, on the shelf.

With all of that, coach Craig MacTavish summoned his best poker face Wednesday.

"These (comments) could come back to haunt me and I don't normally throw these out there, but I'm not all that worried about the injuries on the back end," MacTavish said.

"From what I've seen, with (who) we have healthy, we're going to be able to overcome it."

In Souray, the Oilers lost a player with 512 regular season games of NHL experience. Pitkanen has 214 on his resume and Greene, injured when he leg buckled under him on a hit by Dallas Drake, has played 118 games.

MacTavish still has Steve Staios (689 games) and Dick Tarnstrom (268) to lean on, but after that, it gets thin. Ladislav Smid, just recalled from the minors, has 81 games. Denis Grebeshkov has 41 games, Tom Gilbert 25 and Mathieu Roy, who'll draw in with Greene out, has played 20.

"On paper it looks like we don't have a lot of experience, but the way they're playing, they're playing with a lot of poise," MacTavish said. "Poise, really, is a bi-product of experience.

"I'm not concerned about the defence in the way I was last year, that's for sure. We're a lot deeper back there now and we can move the puck."

For the Oilers, this string of bad luck is all too reminiscent of the injury woes that sent them into a tailspin last season, a campaign in which they won just two or their final 20 games and missed the playoffs.

Last season, players like Gilbert and Roy had to learn on the job instead of staying in the minors as injuries riddled the defence. It was a trial-by-fire that might serve them well now.

"It's like a bad bug happening again," said Gilbert, who played in 12 games last season. "Eventually, you've got to think it's going to stop. Knock on wood, hopefully it does now. It's just bad luck right now.

"Last year, I got a lot of minutes and I got experience. I'm using what I learned from last year now."

Aside from Souray, Pitkanen and Greene, captain Ethan Moreau still hasn't played a game because of a broken foot.

"I don't think any of us wanted to be 13 games in and be in the situation we're in with injuries," Souray said. "It's the reality of the situation. Nothing we can do is going to change that.

"The way guys get experience is to play in these situations. If we can get some good efforts . . . the main thing here is to stay afloat. Once you start getting on the decline, it's hard to play catch up."

If there's any good news, it's that Souray put on his equipment Wednesday and skated for the first time since his injury.

At 5-8-0 and with four straight road games against divisional opponents - Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary and Vancouver - looming, the Oilers can use some good news.

"I guess the good news is the guys have been through this before," Souray said. "We all know, especially at the start of a season, what injuries can do and mean to a club.

"By no stretch are the guys going to stop playing hard. It's nothing new from 50 or 60 years ago. You lose guys. Guys have an opportunity to play more and you have to step up."



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