EDMONTON, AB - "It's a little bit of death by a thousand cuts. When you're patching up one area, another area opens up."
Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli does not have just one easy answer to explain away Edmonton's 9-13-2 start to the season.
"I'm disappointed as to where we are. There's a number of areas," he said.
The Oilers power play once ranked at the bottom of the League, but has since improved to 18th (19%). Their penalty kill is 30th at 73.8%. They're 26th in goals for per game at 2.67, and they've allowed the fifth-most goals against per game at 3.25. Secondary scoring is among a group of issues ailing the Oil.
"At one point, (the issue) was scoring - it still is," said Chiarelli. "I think we're generating a lot of chances. But at another point it was defending, which includes goaltending. Our specialty teams are improving. There was only one way to go but up on them. Our power play had bumped up a little bit and it's dropping down a little bit. In general, they are improving and still have to get better. There's a number of areas. I know our staff is addressing them one by one but you go on a road trip like this last one and have two good games and three not good games, you'd like a little consistency."
Edmonton has returned home following a five-game road trip in which the club was very much up and down. They lost 6-3 in Dallas and 8-3 in St. Louis, before dominating Detroit 6-2. Their momentum faltered in Buffalo, losing 3-1, but they got some life back in a 4-2 win in Boston to close it out.
"It goes back to mental when you go through swings like that," Chiarelli said. "It goes back to a little bit what we talked about in the summer about managing expectations. I think things can spiral a bit mentally. You have a real good game like that, then subconsciously you get into a comfort level. I think you end up underestimating the opponent. I think that happens a little bit."
This game-to-game swing is not a new thing for the 2017-18 Oilers. They beat Calgary in their opener 3-0, then dropped four straight. They crushed the Devils 6-3, then fell flat against the Red Wings 4-0.
Video: RAW | Peter Chiarelli Press Conference
"Trust me, we've been looking at these swings and they're a little hard to really pin down," said Chiarelli. "I've had a lot of discussions with the coaching staff and everyone on it. I wish I had a more concrete answer for you, but I think part of it is mental when you have such a swing in performance from game to game."
If the up-and-down play of the Oilers continues, Chiarelli will be forced to consider making big moves to shake things up - but this is also where balance comes into play.
"We're second-to-last in our division, third or second-to-last in the League. It's obviously a spot where we're very disappointed we're in. You have to be vigilant on this type of stuff… but you can't overreact in the sense that you can't just blow things up."
So what does this roster need? As the GM, Chiarelli is tasked with looking at the problem from every angle to find a solution. You balance patience with pressing the change button. You apply trust in your coaching staff, and the struggling players, hoping they'll turn it around.
"You have to balance fixing and going with your gut and applying a little bit of patience," said Chiarelli. "That's not to say we're not trying to fix these things. We mentioned right side, depth on D, depth in scoring. Backup goalie, starting goalie. My point is that there's a lot of things that aren't going right at this point and we're trying to work our way through it."
When a GM speaks to the media about his team's struggles, the players in the locker room take notice. But the thing about these players is they already know what he's going to say - and they know it falls on them to be better.
"Nothing he's going to say out there is going to be ground breaking or something we don't know," said Oilers forward Mark Letestu. "We've gotten off to a bad start. To a man, we all have to be better. As a manager, I'm sure, he's going to look at ways to improve the team, whether that's through talking to the media, or making changes with the personnel. That's nothing new to the guys in here. Sometimes that happens and we put him in that situation. If anything he says is along those lines, it's nobody's fault other than our own."
Perhaps individual players can find personal motivation behind their GM's comments, or perhaps the team was already moving toward more success with the way they closed out their last road trip. One thing is for certain, as the season moves toward December, Chiarelli and his staff will continue to observe the team's performance and look for solutions to issues that don't take an upward tick.
"You have to let these things play out to a certain degree," he said. "You have to act when you think they're not getting fixed. Each of those (issues) I look at individually. How do you fix it? You look externally, you look internally, you have to look at your coaching staff, you have to look at your management staff. You look at a lot of different things. There's no easy answer.
"Nobody's going to help us now. There are opportunities. We've been beating the bushes a little bit and there are things that are coming around. You just have to be on top of it and we hope that we are."