PITTSBURGH — When the bottom of the boat has a massive hole in it and everyone on board is ankle deep in water, it’s probably not the best time to be worrying about an under-performing engine.
You plug the hole first, because it doesn’t matter how fast you can go when you’re sitting on the ocean floor.
That’s where the Edmonton Oilers were a few games ago, sinking fast as a torrent of pucks poured through all the leaks in their game.
Five goals against in a loss to Winnipeg. Six goals against in a loss to Ottawa. Five more in a loss to Carolina. Nineteen in all during a four-game slump that dropped them to the bottom of the Western Conference.
So they needed those holes patched before anything else. And they appear to have accomplished that in the last two games, holding the third-highest scoring team in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks, to one goal and the seventh-highest scoring team, the Philadelphia Flyers, to two.
Now that that has been addressed, they might want to focus on the engine.
It’s belching black smoke and delivering almost no power.
Despite boasting the most exciting offensive player in the game, the Oilers are 30th in goals per game this season, averaging a paltry 2.0.
In a 3-2 league, you can probably guess where that leaves them.
“We have to find ways to score, create more offence,” said newly-acquired winger Ryan Strome, after the Oilers played well enough to beat the Flyers Saturday afternoon, but only managed one goal in a 2-1 defeat. “We have to find ways. You have to get more than one to win. You can’t rely on (Cam Talbot) every game.”
The Oilers admit they were heavily focused on their own end lately, for the obvious reasons, and they offence might have suffered because of it.
“You have to defend, too, so sometimes the pucks don’t go in,” shrugged Patrick Maroon. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
The last thing head coach Todd McLellan wants is to see the Oilers cheating the defence in search of offence, but with the Pittsburgh Penguins up next, Tuesday night would be a good time to turn in a complete game at both ends of the ice.
“It certainly would,” said McLellan. “We’re cleaning up the defensive part, which is a start for us, but now we have to get some of the offensive part going.”
There’s no question the Oilers miss a top 10 scorer in Leon Draisiatl, who might be back against the Penguins, but excuses serve no purpose when you’ve lost five of the last six and your next game is against the two-time and defending Stanley Cup champions.
Neither does a 16.7 per cent power play, which has let them down in too many games already.
“Perhaps a couple of players will be back in our lineup that will make us a little quicker and maybe a little more skilled than we are right now, but if not this group has to get it done,” agreed McLellan.
“We fire a lot of pucks, but to me there are a lot that are getting tipped, deflected or blocked. Is that because we’re too quick to shoot, too slow to shoot? We have to look at that and try and fix some things.”
With opponents game planning for an Oliers team that relies very heavily on Connor McDavid, Edmonton shouldn’t be expecting any easy offence for a long time. But unless they plan on winning a bunch of games 1-0, they need to figure out a way to be the team that scores three instead of two.
“We’re going to have to win these (tight) games,” said Strome. “In playoffs and big games teams are going to try and shut it down on us.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has seen this movie before in Edmonton and believes the goals will come, hopefully in bunches.
“We’re getting the shots, we’re getting the chances, we just have to find a way to bear down,” he said. “Maybe we’re gripping our sticks too tight around the net. The chances are there, we’re creating stuff.
“Maybe we need to create a little more, but we have to find that balance between giving up easy opportunities and making the right play and working hard for our chances.”