Oilers’ Ken Hitchcock still searching for answers to scoring woes

Gene Principe and Mark Spector look at the Oilers continued struggles, how the lack of depth continues to hurt Edmonton, as well as a preview of Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers forwards have scored 112 goals this season. Four players — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson — have accounted for 72 percent of those goals.

That means the support group, a gang of 11 or 12 forwards who fill out the remainder of the eight spots up front, have managed only 31 goals in just over a half a season.

Those numbers had head coach Ken Hitchcock sending out an all-points bulletin after a loss to lowly Arizona Saturday night, in search of some support for his top-four players.

"We have to find a way. We have to find more people to do more," begged Hitchcock. "Whether it’s the group that’s here or the group that’s somewhere else, we have to find more people to do more if we expect to get a different result."

Tobias Rieder, a key free agent signing by GM Peter Chiarelli, has zero goals in 32 starts. Milan Lucic has dented the twine twice, and at $6 million annually his ability to produce offensively appears to have completely evaporated. The ineffective Zack Kassian also has just two goals, and makes $2 million.

Jujhar Khaira, a big, strong and fast young player for whom many had high hopes this season, is muddling along on pace for 25 points. He has scored just twice, a major disappointment in Edmonton.

Jesse Puljujarvi has four goals. And while Ryan Strome has 6-5-11 in 26 games since being dealt to New York for Ryan Spooner, the new Oilers forward has 2-1-3 in 23 games as an Oiler. He’s been a total bust.

"We’ve got to find a way to produce more. It’s that simple," said Rieder, who has been a perimeter player on offence since joining Edmonton. "We haven’t gotten it done so far."

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It was thought Rieder might click with his countryman Draisaitl. Buried in a career slump however, Hitchcock can’t often justify playing Rieder in a top-six role.

It’s Jan. 14 and Rieder has not scored a single goal yet this season.

"First time ever," he said. "The longest I’ve gone in my career without a goal is a 12-game span. All I can do is be out there early, be out there late shooting pucks. Just work hard.

"I’m not proud of it. You’ve got to stick with it."

The old saying with depth forwards is, if you’re not scoring you’d better not be getting scored on. But because this group scores so seldom, they literally have to be perfect defensively just to break even.

"Individually and collectively, we have to figure out how we’re going to be a positive factor in games. When we’re not contributing, we can’t be hurting the team," said depth forward Kyle Brodziak, a fourth-line centre often being pushed up to third-line status because of a lack of depth in Edmonton.

"You’ve got to find a way to contribute, no matter what situation you’re put in, no matter what the circumstances are," he added. "We haven’t done a very good job of that so far. Hopefully the second half we can turn it around.

"It’s no secret — we haven’t been getting the job done."

That leaves Hitchcock to overplay his top players. McDavid, who missed Sunday’s skills competition due to illness, is second among NHL forwards in average ice time per game at 22:52. Draisaitl is sixth (21:56).

"I’ve only been here 25 games or so," said Hitchcock. "I just know we’re trying to get more and more from people and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. I just know what it takes to get in and if this is the level we’re going to play at it’s not good enough.

"We’re going to have to find a way to get more from this group. That’s on us to try and see if we can squeeze more out of them."

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