Beat-up Oilers have much to play for
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson is approaching his first-ever 30-win season in the National Hockey League.
Five of his teammates, led by Shawn Horcoff and Joffrey Lupul, are threatening the 20-goal plateau.
So who says there's nothing to cheer about in Edmonton, which is still mourning the departure of left-winger Ryan Smyth?
Sure, the Oilers sit 13 points in arrears of eighth-place Minnesota in the Western Conference, but they can play spoiler Wednesday night and prevent the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning from regaining third spot in the East.
And a couple of streaks are on the line. Losers of four straight, Edmonton boasts a perfect 4-0 record against Southeast Division opponents this season.
It's also a time for young players, such as winger Kyle Brodziak, to audition for next year's squad.
"Your objectives change now and it's important that we not only have the ability to give the young guys some experience, but now we can get our hands on them in situations that normally wouldn't occur — thankfully," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish told reporters Tuesday.
"But given the situation we're in, with the injuries and the standings, one of our main objectives is playing well and winning some hockey games and, secondly, giving the young guys the exposure."
Edmonton, which hasn't played since Saturday's 4-2 loss to Calgary, will take the ice minus six regulars — defenceman Daniel Tjarnqvistand forwards Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau, Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Petr Nedvedare all injured.
"I've never seen us this beaten up as a team," said defenceman Steve Staios, who was sidelined for nine games earlier in the season with a knee injury.
Brodziak, 22, was summoned Tuesday from the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on emergency recall.
Second in Penguins scoring with 21 goals and 46 points in 49 games, he will skate on the top line with Raffi Torres and Horcoff against Tampa Bay.
"I have got high expectations for him coming into the game," said MacTavish of Brodziak, who has spent nearly three years in Edmonton's farm system. "I think he is going to be way further ahead than what he has been in the past, from what I hear."
At this stage, MacTavish is paying attention to who plays hard and who quits now that the Oilers are out of the playoff race.
"I thought we played hard [against Calgary] and that's basically all I'm asking," he said. "We're in a difficult situation with the way we've played up until this point and some of the injuries, but the one thing you can control is to go out there and play hard."
Roloson is searching for his 26th victory of the season and is 3-1-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average in five career games against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, will attempt to rebound from a second consecutive loss, 5-1 to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The loss, coupled with Atlanta's 4-2 win over Florida, dropped the Lightning to second place in the Southeast and sixth in the conference.
Tampa Bay, which has surrendered 19 goals in the past four outings, is 1-2 on its season-high six-game road trip.
The Lightning enter Wednesday's matchup with a 6-12-3 all-time record against the Oilers, including 3-7 in Edmonton, andare 2-5 in the second leg of back-to-back games this season.
This is the first meeting between the clubs since Jan. 22, 2004.