by Lisa McRitchie on 02/08/13 at 01:45 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers are in a familiar position; a lineup decimated by injury, in the middle of a losing streak, and all the while the playoffs appear to be getting further and further away.
Missing their top line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and now Anton Lander the Oilers are desperately low on centermen. And while playing Ryan Smyth at center will work in the short term, it's certainly not a long term solution.
Ryan Jones can't believe he's not playing yet either
Nugent-Hopkins missed Wednesday's game due to a "sore shoulder." That never sounds good for am NHL player. That sounds even worse for a member of the Oilers. Immediately thoughts turn to shoulder surgeries and players who admit to playing through shoulder pain and injury throughout the season (Taylor Hall).
To add to that concern, Nugent-Hopkins could be ready to go again for Saturday's game against the Detroit Red Wings.
It's not necessarily another challenge for the Oilers medical staff alone, the player does have some say. If Nugent-Hopkins says that he is ready to play, he will get to play. And even if Nugent-Hopkins was hurting, he would likely look around the locker room, see all of the empty stalls and decide that he is in much better shape than those other fallen soldiers and go out to play.
The re-addition of Ryan Jones to the OIlers' lineup, sometime soon, should help. Why Jones won't be the Oilers' faceoff solution, and he can't help Ryan Whitney start playing defense like the veteran, $4M cap hit player he is, but Jones does bring energy and excitement for the season. Remember he hasn't played yet this season, his offseason has been even longer than the rest.
Jones will also bring some more physical play to a team that is known as soft in the tough Western Conference. And while Jones isn't the power forward solution the Oilers need, have been looking for and are trying to acquire through the draft, it's a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, having Smyth play center has not been all that bad. Smyth has won 16 of 33 faceoffs, for 48.5%, putting him at 5th on the team for number of faceoffs taken and 4th on the team for win percentage (when you look at players who have taken more than 2 faceoffs this season).
Smyth is going to get tired though, soon. While he may feel rejuvenated playing with the youth, the truth is that Smyth is one of the oldest Oilers. And eventually he's going to tire, a back to back set of games may be a cause of injury. Losing Smyth at this point will hurt more than ever, and the coaching staff can't help but see that. So taking Smyth out of a game or two may help with the "who comes out" question now that wingers may be on their way back into the lineup.
The Oilers Ryans have some challenges ahead; Nugent-Hopkins needs to watch his shoulder, Whitney needs to shake the cobwebs and play hockey that won't get him benched, Smyth has accepted that he is going to be playing fewer minutes but may also need to sit out a game or two down the road, and Jones will need to play his physical game that fans have come to know and love. Well, once he's back in the lineup that is.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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