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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Deck Chairs

I thought that Ken Hitchcock might be snarlier than he had been through his first 16 games after watching his Edmonton Oilers lose for the fourth straight time, this time by a 4-2 score against the Vancouver Canucks Thursday, but he spent yet another post-game availability at the podium intent on finding a silver lining.

Hitchcock resisted the urge to open a bowel on goaltender Mikko Koskinen, who has been very good this season but wasn’t against the Canucks, allowing four goals on six shots. He didn’t dwell on giveaways and defensive lapses, and there were far too many, that contributed to a 4-1 deficit after 20 minutes.

He instead accentuated the positive, going as far as to say he thought the game was winnable, even after 20 minutes, as his team came on – I thought the same thing, tweeting out as much when the score was 4-2. It wasn’t to be, though. While the Oilers carried the play for most of the final 40 minutes and hit iron three times, they couldn’t get out from under an awful start. No cigar.

Fair enough. That said, and recognizing help is on the way for an overmatched blueline with the impending return of reliable Kris Russell, I’m not sure that and all the optimism in the world will make the Oilers good enough to get back into the playoff position they held until last night between now and the end of January, when Oscar Klefbom is expected to return from injury.

The Oilers have 13 games between now and then. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — unless there is more help on the way in the form of scoring depth up front and a proven blueliner to get the Oilers through until Klefbom returns, I don’t think Hitchcock has enough to work with to stay in playoff contention, no matter how he frames the situation he’s in.

THE SILVER LINING

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock watches the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

“We played 55 minutes of really good hockey,” insisted Hitchcock, who is now 9-6-2 behind Edmonton’s bench. “We had a tough go on some of the goals, but we had exactly the start we needed . . . we did a lot of things right. I believe right now that this is the building block back again.

“I know we’re in a really tough situation injury-wise. I know we’ve got a lot of people out, but I saw some things today that are building blocks that we can move this thing forward, hopefully to another level. We can’t do anything about the health and nobody is going to feel sorry for us, but I thought we competed.

“Like I said, we made some mistakes early but we competed right from the start to the end. I know it doesn’t come out that way on the scoreboard, but we did a number of good things, especially in the second and third period, that allow us to build on something here. It’s a group, that with the people that are out of the line-up, that’s wondering. The last thing we need to do right now is beat it up some more. It’s a group that’s going to need every one of us to rally behind until some of these guys get back in the line-up . . .”

Hitchcock is blowing some smoke here. He’s in full I’ve-got-your-back mode with his roster, and that’s the smart approach under the circumstances. Is crapping on Koskinen going to help? Is ranting and raving going to make Ryan Spooner better, help Milan Lucic hit the side of a barn, coax more scoring from Zack Kassian and Jesse Puljujarvi or make the bottom of this blueline group capable of taking on the minutes they have to play without Klefbom and Russell?

Showing up GM Pete Chiarelli by publicly by moaning about the dismal lack of scoring depth up front and shaking his head in dismay about being a day late and a dollar short on the back end isn’t going to help either – although I can only assume they’ve had that conversation privately with the Oilers slipping since Klefbom and Russell went out.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So, Hitchcock faced the music in the post-game spinning the positive and trying to buy time by looking on the bright side again. Russell could be back against San Jose Saturday afternoon. Maybe calling up Kailer Yamamoto up will provide an offensive bump. I’m not sold there’s an answer internally – changing up the lines or shuttling bodies between here and Bakersfield. The way I see it, that’s a proverbial shuffling of the deck chairs.

Fans are restless today, and with good reason. With four straight losses in the books, what will the next 13 games look like? Some people are even ripping Hitchcock, which is about as misplaced as frustration can get. That said, the Oilers are 18-16-3 and fading fast in the Western Conference, so I understand the sentiment. Fans are already weary of Hitchcock mining for positives after losses.

If Chiarelli has a move up his sleeve to add some scoring depth or a D-man who can play reliable minutes until Klefbom returns, I’d suggest it’s time to make it. Half-way down the unemployment plank already, Chiarelli doesn’t have the luxury of time, nor does the team he’s assembled. The way I see it, this season will swing on the next 13 games. Silver linings won’t get it done.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Hockeytalkguy

    I kind of agree with Hitchcock……they didn’t play all that bad. At the 10 minute mark of the 2nd period Vancouver had 7 shots on net, Oil had 17. Score was 4-2 at this point. You have to have consistent goaltending to win in any league, most nights your goalie has to be your best player. Look what kuhdobin did for Dallas last night, 49 save shut out. I just hope they can tread water for the next month. Some secondary scoring would be nice but I think it’s safe to say there isn’t anyone on the roster who can step up and provide it.

  • Beer

    If Chia is the sole reason for lack of depth and bad trades, then those responsible for hiring him are culpable. None of these Twete’s should have any authority at the trade deadline, draft, or off season decision making process. Maybe fire Klowe and replace him with Burke on a interim bases, that would be sweet.

      • KMA

        I am guessing Lowe does have some say about the operation of the hockey team. However indirect I think he has some level of influence over the direction of the team, what people they hire on and off the ice.

        • RexHolez

          Couldn’t care less what Lowe’s title is! He’s still in the organization, and this organization is an embarrassment to sport franchises at every level

      • GRC

        Actually Robin it doesn’t take much digging to get info on the responsibilities for each member of the bloated Oiler upper Management Group. From the Oilers website regarding Wayne Gretzky there is a tidbit on Lowe…..

        Wayne Gretzky, 57, enters his third season as the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) Vice Chair with Kevin Lowe, after being named on October 12, 2016. In this role, Gretzky works closely with Daryl Katz, OEG CEO and Vice Chair Bob Nicholson and Vice Chair Kevin Lowe in all aspects of the organization, including business and hockey operations.

        What this tells me is that this structure obscures ultimate public accountability regarding hockey Ops. Sure Chia is the POHO and GM but who really knows how much autonomy he has in his roles.
        What a mess Katz has created..

  • Butters

    If Hitchcock can’t get this team into the playoffs, I am not sure who can. Too many holes and not enough cap space or assets to fix it. We are back to relying on drafting.

    Once the Oilers are out of it, the fans will get what they want, PCs head on a pike.

  • Rama Lama

    I may be in the minority but I feel our problems in the offensive part of the game is primarily based on the lack of puck moving defenceman. With Klefbom, Sekera, and Russel playing this team looks like a totally different team.

    I know we have very little offence after Connor, Leon, and the Nuge………but the bottom lines seem to play a different game when we have Klefbom and Sekera in the game.

    Once we get these players back I suspect the team will preform better. I for one do NOT want PC making anymore trades. He never steals in a trade but seems to always lose big. He does seem to make good trades at the AHL level……..but at the NHL level he is a total failure.

        • Oilerup!

          Sorry for my ignorance….. but who the $@“!? is “TM” …… and what did he do?
          I do believe PC has to go. Anything less than a deep, close run into the 2nd round….bye bye Petesky! Bob Nicholson is equally responsible…. how many bad deals does he have to watch before he does something!

          And where the hell is the owner? He doesn’t give a rats ass about this club, he got what he wanted….. he owns downtown….. why would he care?

    • Finnaggled

      …. most of the bottom lines have literally never played with Sekera. But agreed that chia needs to be replaced before trades are made. Or at least a co-gm situation where chia can deal with any trades involving draft picks where he excels, and aaaanyone else deals with nhl, on our roster trades lol

    • nijames

      The Three guys you mention are barely puck moving defensemen. If you’re waiting for Russell to make a difference think about it, he’s a 3rd pairing d-man on a good team that’s how bad it is on this team

  • MontanaMan

    So Hitch thinks they played better after getting down 4-0? The complexion of the game completely changed for the Canucks as well. No more high risk chances; limited forecheck; give up shots but limit high scoring opportunities; play a conservative road game. The game would have looked a lot different if it was tied 1-1 after one, but the reality is the Canucks built up the big lead and nursed it the rest of the way. There’s very little moral victory in getting down by four and saying “but we outplayed them for 50 minutes.”

  • Oiler Al

    You can malign the defense and goal tending all nite long, but the real problem is “depth scoring”!You save two or add two goals in the Vanc., game you still havnt won.Without listing them[you know them] there are 8 starters on the team combine have only 15 goals. That’s an average of less than 2 goals per.Your 3 and 4 line Oilers for 2018.

  • El Cid

    Package Drai and Lucic and send them to one of the 3 bottom teams at the draft for their #1 draft pick………Oooops we are going to be one of those teams. Hitchcock is over rated!

  • MrBung

    The problems with this roster cannot be fixed easily (or to somehow salvage this season). No sense in mortgaging the future to maybe squeak into the playoffs and get destroyed anyway. They are done this season. These same problems continue to plague them and for years now. Chia is done. No sense in dragging it out. Fire him now.

      • Kool-Aid Man

        I posted this in a previous article so I’m going to repeat it here:

        Charelli wouldn’t have signed Lucic to this contract if he knew for certain he was getting only getting 1-1/2 good seasons out of him. Let’s be honest here, with Lucic on the team, other teams haven’t roughed up our star players nearly as much as they did before he signed here. He still serves a purpose as a deterrent however, he is payed too much for that purpose. He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, all we as fans can do now is hope he turns it around sooner than later (or at all).

  • Hitch is a smart dude, he knows what he’s doing. Being supportive and positive is the right move. Save going “Torts” for later, cause if he does it now, he’s got nowhere to go to down the road.
    He knows he doesn’t have the horses and freaking out about won’t help. I bet his tone around Chia is more aggressive though.

    • FlamesFan27

      Hitchcock doesn’t care what the fans want to hear. He’s trying to get the most out of this team. And like another poster said, if he goes “postal” now he has no bullets left.

  • OldOilFan

    Looch:
    Milan has pride (the good kind of pride). I don’t know him personally, but I bet he’d waive his NMC if mgmt approached him on a trade.

    That said, the average forward is re-signing for $5-$7m these days, so there’s no real Cap savings to be had – and no surefire forward available anyway??

  • Todd the electron rod

    Jim Lites (Dallas Stars CEO) had a few comments about his team. Not much sunshine there. Who knew that two players on near $80 million contracts would be expected to produce?

  • KootenayDan

    “unless there is more help on the way in the form of scoring depth up front and a proven blueliner” your quote says it all Robin lack of good depth is sinking this ship fast.

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    As much as I’d like to see Chia gone, I don’t think it really does much at end of the day until they actually really clean house and cut a lot of the old boys and Bobby Nick.

    They need a major exorcism through out the organization if they intend to build and compete. My biggest issue has always been at the top with Katz. We’ve had 1 playoff birth under him and how he’s let this gong show go on this long is sad and infuriating. He either doesn’t care enough or doesn’t have the know how on how to build a winner. I find it quite disturbing that he basically bought a team just to hangout with Gretzky here and there and have a perennial loser team.

    The most brutal thing of all is they had “carte blanche” and still screwed up big time but fans are told “we got a plan”…

    Who do you see as a replacement for GM Robin?

  • KMA

    Sorry, I for one don’t buy the injury bug as an excuse or reason why the Oil cannot produce on a consistent basis. Every team experiences injuries throughout the season.