Oilers still waiting for depth forwards to start clicking on offence

Detroit Red Wings centre Andreas Athanasiou (72) takes the puck from Edmonton Oilers right wing Alex Chiasson (39). (Paul Sancya/AP)

DETROIT — When the coach puts his lines in the proverbial blender, it always brews up opportunity for those lower line players, guys who would normally have to be playing PlayStation to find themselves on a line with a centreman like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

"There are people looking for more opportunity, so you give it to them and you see how they do," explained Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett.

There was plenty of opportunity to be seized, all right, for guys like Jujhar Khaira, Sam Gagner, Gaetan Haas, etc. Alas, they seized all right, losing 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings on yet another night when the only point getters in Edmonton’s lineup wore the numbers 29 and 97.

"We’ve got to find some scoring in our lineup, somewhere," said Tippett, whose charges play in Columbus on Wednesday night, having lost four of their past five games.

Here’s the deal on the Oilers support scoring: No one outside of that locker room believes they are an elite group, or that a guy like Alex Chiasson is going to repeat last year’s career, 22-goal season.

But it is fair to look at players like Riley Sheahan, Khaira, Chiasson, or even a Tomas Jurco, who accomplishes so very little, and expect between eight and 10 goals on the season. Well, they could start any time.

So far, 13 games into the season, none of those four have scored a goal yet, and they are joined by goal-less forwards Patrick Russell, Haas and Gagner.

The stat line of 0-0-0 is shared by Sheahan, Khaira, Russell, Markus Granlund (a healthy scratch in Detroit) and Gagner, who to be fair has only played three games. Still, that is an inordinate team-wide slump that cost Edmonton again on Tuesday, as a Detroit team on an eight-game losing streak won 3-1 on an empty net goal.

Nugent-Hopkins has one goal this season, and he knows that he is complicit in all of this.

"I put a lot of that on myself right now, they’re not going in for me," he said. "I have to find a way. Whether it’s banking one in off my legs or something, something has to start going. I take a lot of responsibility so I want to get that going."

On this night it was Detroit’s Patrick Nemeth who scored his first goal in 70 games, a first period blast that stood up as the winner. That’s just a kick in the collective groin of the Oilers support group, whose de facto captain — Chiasson — went without a shot on goal for the fourth time in five games.

Offensively, his game’s a mess. To his credit, he’s out there facing the media music every night, a chore that could be shared among his group, we’d venture.

"At this point I’m not worried about the (group). This is on me. I’m not looking at anyone else," said Chiasson. "I’ve got to lead the second group. I take pride in that. Right now, I don’t want to be the guy who puts pressure on myself, takes all the blame, but you’ve got to take ownership of your game. That’s what I’m doing."

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Nobody predicted another 20-goal season out of Chiasson, but his character, size and competitive level is what earned him a two-year deal over the summer. It all has to get better.

"That’s what is expected out of me," he said. "If my play is better I think I can bring one or two guys with me, and so on and so forth."

The Oilers are at that stage where every opposing goalie looks like Eddie Belfour in his prime. On this night it was Jimmy Howard, who came in with a save percentage of .901, but was beaten only by Draisaitl, making 31 saves to end his club’s losing skein.

"We need to be a desperate team too," McDavid said. "We’re 1-3-1 in our last five games so we need to be a desperate team and I think we learned a lesson from their group tonight.”

"We need to find a way to get out of the gates better and we can start that," he added. "We just played quick, we played fast, our D was moving the pucks up, their forwards were unable to read where the pucks were going and we got them in and just outworked them and got pucks to the net."

Now, if they could only get pucks IN the net, the Edmonton Oilers would have something.


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