The power of music is amazing. Certain songs instantly bring a smile to your face, while others hit you right in the feels as you remember a loved one or a broken relationship. Whenever I hear Bust A Move by Young MC I’m instantly in a good mood, and when I hear any song by the great Elvis Presley it automatically sends me on a trip down memory lane with my late father. He introduced me to the King while we drove to and from my hockey when I was in Bantam and Midget. If you have a moment go listen to Suspicious Minds or In the Ghetto. Outstanding songs.
Songs connect us to certain moments in our life and regardless of what phase of our journey we are in today, those past chapters often flood our memories when a song from that time is played. It truly is remarkable.
What is also remarkable, but not in the same vein, is the lack of offence from the Edmonton Oilers depth players.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were humming K’Naan’s song “Is Anybody Out There?” while driving to the rink.
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?”
Alex Chiasson has been in the trenches with the big-three, while Jujhar Khaira has shown up in December and Drake Caggiula produced in October and November before getting injured again, but other than that the depth scoring of the Oilers has been almost non existent.
Last night Chiasson-McDavid-Draisaitl were a trio and they’ve combined for 53 goals. The rest of the team, including D-men, have a total of 50 goals, and RNH has 13 of those. So take away the top-four goal scorers and the other 14 roster spots have combined for 37 goals. Eliminate Caggiula’s seven goals and the other 13 roster spots have combined for 30 goals in 37 games. Ouch.
It simply can’t continue if the Oilers want to stay in the playoff race.
Of course recent injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell have made it much for difficult on the blueline, but if you focus too much on that you are overlooking what has been a season-long issue: lack of scoring.
Ken Hitchcock entered the scene on November 20th, and the Oilers looked refocused and energized going 8-2-1, but since then they are 1-4-1 and look like the same team that went 8-2-1 under Todd McLellan before going 1-6 and McLellan was fired. Some wanted to blame McLellan for the Oilers woes, but I felt that was unfair, and now Hitchcock is realizing that even when you find the positive in every situation the same issue is still there. This team doesn’t score enough, especially at 5×5.
McDavid is on pace for 63 points at 5×5, while Draisaitl is on pace for 55. They had 71 and 43 respectively last season. They combined for 114 last year and are on pace for 118 this season. They certainly aren’t the problem.
RNH has 16 points at 5×5 after scoring 26 in 62 games last season. He’s been solid again. Chiasson already had nine goals and 12 points and is on pace for 29 points. Excellent production from him as well.
But after that it is a major issue.
Milan Lucic doesn’t have a goal at 5×5 in 37 games. He has played the fouth most minutes (421) among Oilers forwards, but doesn’t have a goal. His inability to score is almost indescribable. He had 26 points in his first 36 games last season, on pace to score 59 points for the fourth time in his career, but from December 27th, 2017 to today he has played 81 games and scored two goals. Many expected we would see a decrease in his offensive production in the final years of his contract, but he has fallen off a cliff offensively. I’ve never seen a player in mid season fall off the map like he did last season and then continue it this year.
I don’t think Hitchcock has any choice but to move him to the fourth line and hope he finds his offence. It isn’t just a lack of goals from Lucic. He only has 39 shots this year. You can’t score if you don’t get any pucks on goal. At this point I don’t think you can expect much offence from Lucic. If he scores four goals in the final 45 games that would be an improvement.
Here are the rest of the Oilers forward 5×5 TOI and production:
Zack Kassian 374 2-1-3
Kyle Brodziak 373 3-1-4
Drake Caggiula 347 5-2-7
Jujhar Khaira 324 2-9-11
Jesse Puljujarvi 297 3-2-5
Tobias Rieder 258 0-5-5
Ty Rattie 218 2-1-3
Ryan Spooner 152 2-1-3
Valentin Zykov 31 0-0-0
Lucic has four assists in 421 5×5 minutes. I feel for the player, but the harsh reality of the NHL is you need to produce to continue getting minutes. He should be on the fourth line to start tomorrow and he will need to earn his way back up the lineup. Hitchcock can’t keep waiting and hoping players start producing like they have in the past. I understood why McLellan and Hitchcock gave him the benefit of the doubt. He is a veteran and a five-time 50-point player. None of the other depth guys have that resume, but that is the past, and Hithcock has to focus on the now.
Let’s be clear: it isn’t just Lucic’s lack of production; many others need to do more. Rieder doesn’t have a goal and he only has points in four of the 24 games he’s played. In 83.3% of his games he isn’t adding anything offensively. That has to change.
Getting Khaira back will be a big boost, and I suspect none of us, including the coaches and management, at the start of the season felt that Khaira’s absence would be a drain on the offence. But give him credit — he has worked his way up the lineup and is producing. With eight points in December he is more than deserving of a spot on Nugent-Hopkins left side.
There has been some whispers the Oilers might recall Kailer Yamamoto. Okay, but that would only be out of desperation.
Yamamoto is 20 years young. He has just returned from an injury and has four points in four AHL games. He is starting to produce like he should in the AHL, but is it wise to recall him? Is that best for his development and is he ready and able to produce in the NHL right now? He definitely has NHL hockey sense. He is very smart, but he needs to add strength, which won’t happen quickly. I think he will help in the future, just like I believe Puljujarvi when he is 22 is going to be a better player than he is now, but rushing 20 year olds isn’t the best move in my eyes.
I will argue Drake Caggiula can produce just as well as Yamamoto today. So why not keep Yamamoto in the AHL and let him gain confidence and play big minutes on the top line?
The reality is Peter Chiarelli has compiled a group of wingers with little proven offence. Expecting the two 20 year olds to become the depth scoring is unfair to them. Right now they need Lucic and Rieder to wake up and hope that Khaira can continue his production and that Caggiula can stay healthy and rediscover the play he had in November prior to injury his hand during an unnecessary practice drill.