On Tuesday, the Oilers released confirmation that Ladislav Smid had been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus after a number of other players had missed significant ice time due to flu symptoms. Gilbert Brule, Mike Comrie, Dustin Penner, Tom Gilbert, Smid, and Taylor Chorney were amongst just some of the players who'd admitted having issues breathing, skating, and finding the strength to play at their normal levels.
Some might take this as an excuse, but it could explain why the Oilers went from being among the league leaders in goals for, to lacking any scoring ability whatsoever. One would need to look no further than a 5-2 loss to Calgary, a 2-0 loss to Vancouver, and a 2-0 loss to Colorado in the Oilers' last three games.
To make matters worse, it sounds as though Lubomir Visnovsky has unofficially been listed as the latest flu victim, and is questionable in the Oilers' Thursday game against the Detroit Red Wings. This is about the worst news the Oilers could be getting at a time where one win, against a surprisingly mediocre Red Wings team, could snap them out of a three-game losing streak.
Despite Penner's tremendous start, Visnovsky has been Edmonton's most valuable player. Twelve games into the season, the Oilers' weakness in their own zone is evident and teams are scoring goals in bunches when the Oilers fail to clear the puck from their own end. Visnovsky, seemingly the only help left in that area, now leaves the Oilers vulnerable at a time when things seem to be going from bad to worse.
The Oilers now go into that game down not only Visnovsky, but Sheldon Souray and Steve Staois, Edmonton's two other most veteran defencemen. As a result, Edmonton will look to Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Jason Strudwick, Chorney, Theo Peckham, and Smid to provide the defense against a Red Wings team just looking for the right opponent to break out against. Detroit must be licking their chops at the thought of playing six blue liners who have struggled in many ways so far this season.
In the first nine games of this young NHL season, the Oilers managed to outscore the opposition by a margin of 35-24. Not a coincidence that two if not all three missing defencemen dressed for a chunk of those games. In contrast, the Oilers' last three games saw Edmonton outscored 10-2. Visnovsky was a huge factor, having scored eight points in 12 games.
Typically any team with forwards able to score more often than their defense and goalie lets in, will win the game. Fundamentally, it's the equation all teams go by. For the Oilers, when one significant variable is missing, thus making the equation unbalanced somehow, another variable needs to be added to compensate.
It will be up to Pat Quinn and the remaining pieces on the Oilers' otherwise depleted team to figure out what that variable is. If they can't, Oilers fans can only hope that Detroit is hitting the same flu bug at about the same time the Oilers are. Should they get past the Red Wings, the Oilers might wish—as sad as it is to wish illness on anyone—they get to take on a few depleted teams to get back on the winning track.