While Dave Tippett’s consistency in platooning Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in the goal crease produced some early results for the Edmonton Oilers this season, it’s obvious that the blue paint has swung Koskinen’s way based on what we’ve seen lately. At least it looks like it from here.
When Koskinen won his first five starts and Smith won three of his first four, Tippett’s approach was essentially two-and-out for both of them as the Oilers vaulted out to a 7-1-0 start. Both stoppers were better than most of us expected they would be going into the season. Results dictated a 1A and 1B set-up. Not so much now, 32 games into the season.
We’ve seen some slippage in Smith’s game lately, most recently in Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Smith allowed three goals on 22 shots, marking the fourth time in his last five appearances he’s been under .900 in save-percentage – he’s gone .864, .846, .868, .926 and .750 in that stretch, allowing 15 goals on 112 shots for an .866.
Overall, Smith is 7-7-2 with a 2.88 GAA and .903 save-percentage in 17 appearances, 16 of them starts. Koskinen, meanwhile, today sits at 11-3-2 with a 2.53 GAA and .921 in 18 appearances, 16 of them starts. Koskinen has been over .900 in four of his last five games, the lone blemish coming against Ottawa last Wednesday when he gave up three goals on a dozen shots.
Goaltending wasn’t necessarily the problem against the Sabres Sunday – quiet games by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as well as getting too cute with the puck instead of throwing rubber at the net was – but I’m expecting we’ll see at least a slight shift in how Tippett deploys his stoppers in the next little while. We’ll see when the Carolina Hurricanes come calling Tuesday.
Simply put, the numbers tell us that Koskinen gives the Oilers a better chance to win right now – certainly better than sticking with the tandem set-up that worked so well early on. That’s not going to be any kind of revelation to Tippett. It’ll come as no surprise if he starts to lean more on the big Finn and less on Smith, at least with things trending as they are.
The question is degree. While performance must dictate, I’d have no issue with Koskinen getting the start in three to four of every five games the rest of the way with timely breaks built in – Jason Gregor broke down some possibilities earlier today. When Koskinen, who played 55 games in 2018-19, struggled last season it was because he broke down due to over-use in the second half of the schedule – he started 26 of the final 32 games.
There’s a difference between being consistent and being stubborn if things aren’t working as well as they could be. We saw some of that at work today at practice as Tippett re-jigged his lines, splitting McDavid and Draisaitl. It’s also noteworthy Koskinen occupied the starter’s net at Rogers Place. Koskinen looks ready to carry more of the load. I’d be extremely surprised if that doesn’t happen from here on out – even if Tippett said today that he’ll assess his goaltending game-by-game — starting against Carolina.
WHILE I’M AT IT
Here are the lines Tippett went with at practice today:
Nygard – McDavid – Kassian
Khaira – RNH – Draisaitl
Neal – Haas – P. Russell
Granlund – Sheahan – Archibald
Nygard is full marks for a bump up after his performance against Buffalo (1-1-2) and Draisaitl gives RNH a chance to gain some traction as he works his way back into things after missing time with a hand injury.
The defensive pairings today had Darnell Nurse with Ethan Bear, Oscar Klefbom with Adam Larsson and Kris Russell with Brandon Manning. That third pairing is likely to change as Caleb Jones has been recalled from the AHL and Joel Persson has been re-assigned. To be honest, Persson hasn’t done much for me and I’d like to see more of Jones in protected minutes.
GIFT OF GAB
Bryn Griffiths and I had a good gab with TSN’s Bryan Mudryk today on the latest episode of The Outsiders podcast. Mudryk is an Alberta boy from Boyle who worked his way up the ranks through Lloydminster and Edmonton to land one of the greatest gigs in hockey – doing regional play-by-play for the Montreal Canadiens. Worth a listen.