EDMONTON - With a roster riddled by influenza and injuries, the Edmonton Oilers had another anchor thrown their way Wednesday with news Shawn Horcoff will be lost for up to two weeks with a shoulder injury.
Barely treading water with five losses in their last six games, the good news for the Oilers (7-7-1), as they prepare to host the New York Rangers Thursday, is Horcoff won't need surgery to repair the damage done when he was levelled by Andy Sutton in a 3-1 loss to the Islanders on Long Island Monday.
The bad news is the Oilers will have to try to put the brakes on a 1-5 skid in which they've scored just three goals and been shutout three times in the five losses without a centre who chews up minutes, kills penalties and is their most reliable face-off man.
"It just needs to be rested and it will heal sooner rather than real later, but it's going to take a little bit," Horcoff said.
"It's been tough on guys lately. Our team has gone through a lot, whether it's injuries or the flu. We've been decimated in this locker room, but all teams go through it."
Horcoff, 31, was injured in the third period when he was knocked into the boards by Sutton. While the Oilers aren't releasing details about the nature of the injury, the team is saying it isn't related to rotator cuff surgery Horcoff had on the shoulder during the 2007-08 season.
"I knew right away," Horcoff said. "It was pretty sore right away. It has nothing to do with that (previous surgery). I can definitely say that. The part that was surgically repaired is just fine."
The injury to Horcoff - speculation is it's a first-degree separation of the shoulder - is expected to keep him out for at least the start of an upcoming five-game road trip that begins Sunday in Colorado. The Oilers, who started the season 6-2-1, have lost five straight road games.
While Horcoff was off to an unquestionably slow start with five points (two goals, three assists) in 15 games, he leads Oilers forwards with 19:43 of average ice time per game and is second in the NHL to Sidney Crosby in face-offs taken with 311.
"He's obviously a key part of this team," said Mike Comrie, who could be pressed into action in Horcoff's spot against the Rangers despite battling the flu.
"He plays so hard at both ends of the ice. A lot of guys are going to have to step up if he's out for however long. He's one of those guys this teams relies on. He's an important part of this team."
The loss of Horcoff comes after a stretch in which the Oilers played without Comrie, Gilbert Brule and Ales Hemsky (flu) and Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, Ryan Stone and Fernando Pisani because of injuries.
"It's predictable that you'll go through some tough times in a season," said Staios. "We're going through that now.
"It's a good chance for players here to show each other what kind of character you have. It's easy to be a good teammate when things are going your way. When things aren't, that's the real test."
Souray, out since the third game of the season with a concussion, is scheduled to resume skating on his own this week. Staios, also out 12 games with a concussion, has been cleared to play.
At the same time, Hemsky, who took several big hits on Long Island, was given Wednesday off with what coach Pat Quinn called a "maintenance day." Ladislav Smid, who didn't miss a game despite being diagnosed with the H1N1 variety of the flu, sat out Wednesday with flu-like symptoms.