It’s been three straight games where the Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Mikko Koskinen has stood tall. But that hasn’t always been the case this season.
Until Recently Koskinen Had Struggled
Flash back to the end of February. The Edmonton Oilers were engaged in the thick of a Stanley Cup playoff run. At that point in time, veteran Mike Smith was getting head coach Dave Tippett’s nod to start most games – and, in truth, that choice had been working well. The Oilers were far exceeding where most hockey pundits had predicted at the start of the season.
Even at that point, it wasn’t as if Koskinen hadn’t been playing well. He had just come off a 33-save road victory over the Florida Panthers – a game that was much closer than the score indicated because the game was only 2-1 Oilers with less than two minutes left in the third period. In that game, Koskinen kept one of the NHL’s best offenses at bay. Still, it was then a rare start for him because his platoon-mate Smith had been on a roll.
It seemed then as if Tippett’s trust in Smith was well-founded. Against the Minnesota Wild, Koskinen had allowed four goals on 38 shots and couldn’t take control of the game even after the Oilers had staked him to three different one-goal leads during the game. With that loss, the tall Finnish goalie’s record fell to 16-12-2 and his goals-against-average at 2.89 and a .911 save percentage. Those are not bad numbers, but they’re not Stanley Cup-winning hockey either.
Koskinen’s difficult starts had cost him the No. 1 duties to Smith in early February; still, he had put together an excellent road record for the season with a goals-against-average of 2.33 and a.929 save percentage. He was given the start in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights.
Although he played well-enough, he simply had no goal support and the team lost 3-0 to Marc-Andre Fleury in the net. And, even though Koskinen had struggled with back-to-back losses, Tippett gave him a start against the Dallas Stars.
Things Changed for Koskinen with the Stars Game
During the game against the Stars, Koskinen was very sharp – in fact, he was very, very sharp. He allowed only a single goal on 43 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory. The 31-year-old stopped everything he faced at even strength (30 shots) and only gave up a single power-play goal. Because Koskinen had been inconsistent lately, perhaps fans assumed this start would be an aberration. But it was not.
Smith started against the Chicago Blackhawks, but it wasn’t long before the Oilers were behind 4-1. Tippett replaced Smith with Koskinen in the second period and, once again, Koskinen stood tall and allowed the Oilers to chip back at the Blackhawk’s lead.
It was too little, too late and the Oilers lost 4-3 in Chicago. But Koskinen’s run of successes in the net had started. He had stopped 52 of 53 shots (a .981 save percentage) over his last two games and suddenly it became a toss-up about who would be the Oilers’ starting goalie for each game.
Koskinen’s Game Against the Columbus Blue Jackets
Tippett started Koskinen against the Blue Jackets last night. Although the Oilers were horribly outplayed, Koskinen stood on his head and made 46 saves on 47 shots in the 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets. Sadly, he lost his shutout in the third period when Gustav Nyquist came in on a defensive breakdown and scored on his own rebound. Otherwise, perfect.
With that excellent game and resulting win, the 6-foot-7 goalie’s record improved to 18-13-2 with a 2.75 GAA and a .917 save percentage through 37 appearances. Better yet, that game pushed the Oilers into first place in the Pacific Division.
It might be that Smith still has the edge as the Oilers’ starting goalie; however, that both goalies are playing well gives Edmonton a reliable tandem in net. And, that’s something the team can leverage as it pushes for the playoffs and, perhaps even, into multiple rounds.
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