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
“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.