The deeper Ken Hitchcock enters his post with Edmonton Oilers, the more he realizes why he has been his seventh coach in the last 10 years.
There are more holes in this list than solidified positions.
Once you overtake the four attackers who actually generate goals and assists – Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson – everyone is a passenger when it comes to offenses.
Jujhar Khaira is fifth in scoring among the attackers, with 13 points in 36 games. Next up is Drake Caggiula with 10 points. We are approaching mid-season and nine of the 14 strikers have three or fewer goals.
"I'm trying to get more people involved," Hitchcock said after a night in which Connor McDavid made three assists in Chiasson, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins goals but the Oilers lost for the fourth time in five games.
"Instead of relying on the same two or three people every night all the time to do everything, I'm trying to connect more people. We're not getting enough support players. "
Then he shuffles and mixes and tries to figure out a combination that will work on a team that, despite having the best player in the world, is still incredibly 23rd in the league in goals per game.
But no one else is coming to him.
Even the Identity Line, which was not even asked to score (though that was pretty much the tacit understanding when the three were put together) lost strength.
"We had a little bit when we put the Brodziak line together," Hitchcock said. "But they fought, they were not as good as before."
So he has to mount McDavid harder than he should, knowing that this pace will eventually reach him, or put hopes of that team on his shoulders, nine guys who combined to turn 253 men's games into 16 goals.
"We're going to have to figure out who's helping and who's hurting to get to the next level," Hitchcock said. "We can not keep doing this the same way over and over, because it will not work. We're leaning on very heavy people.
"Other people need to seize opportunities. We have to get more (of all the others). That is why I am doing what I am doing, trying to include more participants so that more people can help, because unless it is changed, it seems that we do not have enough support for a great initial effort. "
That's how Todd McLellan, Todd Nelson, Dallas Eakins, Ralph Krueger, Tom Renney and Pat Quinn saw: some bright stars getting little help from the rest of the attackers.
"We have to find people who can give us this support because we will stop the smoke if we do not," Hitchcock said. "You're seeing this happen in the end."
Oh yeah, the back end, where it's as thin as the attackers.
The blue line was working well enough this year, but it was like the last stages of a Jenga game, precariously balanced and ready to collapse as soon as someone removed the wrong piece.
This piece was Oscar Klefbom, whose absence was amplified by the loss of Kris Russell.
With two of their top four absent supporters, everyone is being elevated to positions they are not equipped to handle and the results are in the numbers: 1-3-1 with 20 goals in the five games since they both went out.
"Everyone has injuries, we just could not have the ones we had," Hitchcock said. "We were in a position where we had enough on the back end to pass, but we were hit hard and now we are paying a price for it.
"We are throwing people very high up the ladder and it is showing up.This affected us on a large scale.Some teams may pay, some teams can absorb it.
This team can not. And Klefbom will not be back anytime soon, so any strategy that involves simply waiting five weeks for your return is a little risky.
And any notion that this team can overcome their weaknesses in defense has already been examined in the previous paragraphs.
So it looks like a very delicate balance right now, and God forbids something to happen to one of the four attackers who are actually producing.
"As the game (Tampa Bay) continued, we got a little exposed with the schedule we're wearing now," said Hitchcock, who had plenty to think about during the Christmas holidays. "We're going to have to find a way to get through this for a while."
E-mail: [email protected]
On twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski
Oil Spill Podcast: Win Some, Lose Some – Mid Season Oilers, Part 1
Part 1 of a retrospective of the Edmonton Oilers season so far – sort of a mid-season report as NHL teams near the middle of the 2018-19 schedule.
Jim Matheson, Derek Van Diest and Craig Ellingson talk about three ongoing issues surrounding the Oilers, including:
– The rise of Mikko Koskinen to become the titular goalkeeper.
– the change of coach November 20, which saw Ken Hitchcock replace Todd McLellan as head coach.
– The ongoing saga of Milan Lucic, who has struggled to score this season and last.
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Google Play or Soundcloud. You can also listen through the player below.