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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

GDB -7.0: Battle of the Backups (8:30 pm MST, SN1)

I can understand if there was a collective shudder across Oilersnation last night as Mikko Koskinen allowed a goal on the first shot of the game, and then allowed a goal on the first shot of the second period. Giving up a goal on the first shot of the game is never ideal, and it was the first preseason game, and, and, and…

But after last year’s struggles, mainly Cam Talbot, where Oilers fans saw their team go down 1-0 on the first shot of the game far too often, it’s understandable that some fans, and maybe even some in the organization, were trying hard not to think, “here we go again.”

But it was only one game.

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Koskinen and Al Montoya are battling to be Cam Talbot’s backup. And even though Koskinen signed a one-year $2.5 million deal, I don’t believe he is a lock to be the backup. His first appearance in Oilers silks was far from stellar, but it was only one game (and his first on smaller ice in six years). I’m not sure smaller ice has much to do with allowing goals through the five-hole from the slot or from along the goal line, but I digress.

Koskinen looked shaky at times last night. Al Montoya is well aware of the situation and is confident in his ability. The backup battle is on.

Despite a significant difference in salary, Montoya and Koskinen will make the team on merit. Before and after the game, Todd McLellan sounded like a coach who wants a backup he can trust, regardless of salary.

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The past two seasons, the performances from the Oilers back up goalies hasn’t even been average.

2017:

Jonas Gustavsson had five starts with a .878 SV% and a 3.10 GAA
Laurent Brossoit had four starts with a .928SV% and a 1.99 GAA
They combined to win five games, with Brossoit winning four of them. Brossoit’s play, albeit in a very small sample size, opened the door for him in 2018. He didn’t take advantage of it.

2018:

Brossoit had ten starts, going 3-7-1 with a .883sv% and a 3.24 GAA. He was sent to the minors and the Oilers acquired Montoya.
Montoya made five starts, and nine appearances, going 2-2-2 with a .906sv% and a 2.94 GAA.

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The Oilers backups have won a total of five games in each of the past two seasons. Ouch. Whoever wins the job out of camp needs to be better. They need some wins. Head coach Todd McLellan made that clear yesterday.

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“As the year goes on, whoever our backup is needs to pitch in with some real good games. We need to get a a chunk of points from our backup when he plays,” said McLellan.

The Oilers are allowed to carry a third goalie when they leave for Germany next Sunday, but they still have to be down to a 23-man roster. The third goalie won’t count. I doubt the backup will play in Germany on October 3rd or in the regular season opener in Sweden on the 6th, so the decision will be made prior to the trip, but it does allow more practice time.

The other consideration is the salary cap. But is it really a factor? Koskinen has a $2.5 million salary while Montoya’s is $1,062,500.

If Koskinen stays in Edmonton the Oilers would have a $2,537,500 cap hit — his $2.5 million hit plus Montoya’s $37,500, because this season, you can put a player in the minors and $1.025 million of their contract does not count against the cap.

If Montoya sticks and Koskinen goes to the minors then their backup goalie cap is the exact same $2,537,500. The one component which could come into play is Koskinen being waiver exempt. If he needs some more time to adjust to the smaller ice and quicker pace, the Oilers could let him get some time in the AHL without exposing him to waivers, unlike Montoya, who requires them. The fact Koskinen can get some time in the  AHL without being exposed to waivers gives the Oilers a nice safety valve if they feel he could use more time getting comfortable on the small ice again. Realistically he might only play another 120 minutes in the preseason.

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Is that enough time to see what he is, or isn’t, capable of?

I don’t sense management will force McLellan to keep Koskinen if he doesn’t want to. The Oilers need a good start, and they can’t afford to start a goalie the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with. Optics should mean very little, and just because one goalie starts as the backup doesn’t guarantee they will stick all season.

Koskinen had a rough start, but he isn’t going to fret about it, at least that is what he said to Post Media’s Rob Tychkowski post-game.

“In my opinion, the mental side is probably the biggest part of goaltending,” said Koskinen. “That’s the main thing, you have to keep your confidence no matter what happens. It’s a long season with many games. You’re going to let in bad goals and you’re going to make great saves. You can’t think about them, you have to move on. And you can’t rely on one game.

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It was only one game, but Koskinen likely only has two more starts to prove he can be the reliable backup McLellan and the Oilers are looking for.

LINEUP

Khaira-Strome-Puljujarvi
Caggiula-Brodziak-Kassian
Safin-Marody-Rattie
Benson-McLeod-Yamamoto

Garrison-Benning
Jones-Russell
Lowe-Jerabek

Talbot (will play first 40 minutes)
Montoya (will play the 3rd period)

The McLeod trio gets another game after a solid outing last night. The coaches will be watching for fatigue, but also to see how they fare against a more NHL-ready lineup. Ryan Strome told me last week that McLellan had told the team he is planning on not shuffling the lines as much this season. “Of course, we need to play well for that to happen, but I think we will look for more continuity among the lines early on,” said Strome.

McLellan has his projected third and fourth lines together tonight. Ty Rattie will draw in with two rookies, and I’m sure the coaches will see how he looks after an off-season where he spent a lot more time on the ice. It is also interesting to see both Russell and Jerabek on the right side. They both shoot left, and this could be an audition to see which one looks more comfortable on the right side. Russell is likely to start in the third pairing, with Klefbom/Larsson and Nurse/Benning in the top-four, but his versatility could see him slot up beside Nurse if Benning struggles.

Canucks

Dahlen-Horvat-Eriksson
Baertschi-Pettersson-Goldobin
Gagner-Granlund-Leipsic
Schaller-Motte-Virtanen

Hutton-Stretcher
Del Zotto-Biega
Sautner-Tanev

Nilsson
Dipietro

Dahlen and Pettersson are exciting young prospects for the Canucks and both have been getting solid reviews. Virtanen is still trying to find his way in the Canucks organization and I’m interested to see if can become more productive or if he becomes a solid bottom-six forward.

QUICK HITS…

1. Preseason is great for debate. It is awesome for sports talk radio and for blogs, yet it is still difficult to assess how much it means. Kailer Yamamoto had two goals and an assist last night. He showed great finish on both his goals. The challenge for the coaching staff is to accurately evaluate what it means. I believe it shows he will be fine in the AHL. Of course he won’t produce three points a game, but he should be a very productive player. I’m not sure how much it means towards making the Edmonton Oilers, because the opposition wasn’t NHL caliber. I won’t be surprised to see Yamamoto play five or six preseason games. They want to see how he does against NHL players. All he can do is play well and get the coaches attention. He should be able to produce against a Stockton Heat lineup, and he did. That is a huge positive for him, because you know his confidence will be higher entering his next game.

2. McLellan talked openly about the reality of the preseason. “When you have 60 players in camp it is hard to truly evaluate each one of them fairly. It is our job to give the best evaluation, but to be quite frank there are some who get more attention than others. Training camp isn’t always fair. I’m the first to admit it and I tell the players that. It just isn’t fair for some guys, but it is their job to work it up to where it becomes fair.” This is the harsh truth.

3. McLellan also explained what he looks for from young players compared to veterans. “The key for young players is to catch our eye three or four times, so their name is being brought up in coaches meetings. That can be through a great defensive play, their effort, a goal, a good hard practice and their attentiveness. For the veterans you tend to look to see if they are improving, getting sharp, is there a laziness to their game or a casual approach in practice and if there is you address it.”

4. Yamamoto made a strong impression last night. Ryan McLeod has been very good throughout camp and so have many other young players like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Tyler Benson and Evan Bouchard. All they can do is keep getting noticed, and as the preseason continues and the competition and speed of the game increases, the coaches will be watching to see how they handle it. I’d guess McLeod will eventually be going back to junior, but his speed has been very noticeable. He gets to pucks quickly, and he has shown very good skill throughout camp, punctuated with his outstanding outlet pass to spring Yamamoto on a breakaway last night. When he returns to junior he should have a lot of confidence.

5. I was honoured to be asked to share #MyJerseyStory as part of the Jersey Gala on October 26th. You can share your story at #MyJerseyStory or you can donate at jerseygala.com. I’m not a jersey collector, I only have two, but this ones means a lot to me.

6. Montoya is well aware of the goaltending situation and he discussed last year’s struggles and his mindset heading into the preseason. “Last year was tough,” said Montoya. “When you have a concussion many think it is black and white (healthy or not), but it isn’t. When you have an injury like I did you are not able to ride the bike or train the body. When you go from zero to a hundred (back in the lineup), basically what I did, there are compensations along the way. For me it was about getting back to basics and I know I’m an NHL goalie. That is what I’m focused on. I know I can win in this league and that is what I plan on doing,” said Montoya. Competition is a good thing and we’ll see which goalie responds the best.

7. Ostaf Safin didn’t play in any rookie games due to an injury. He will get his first action tonight. He is AHL eligible, but with six rookie forwards set to debut in the AHL I think it would make more sense to send him back to junior. He is only 19 years young. Let him develop, gain confidence and hopefully dominate in junior.

8. Watch for an different forecheck from the Oilers tonight and throughout the season. Last year they were far too passive and it made their team look slower than they were. The Oilers actually have many good skaters, but last year they didn’t utilize their speed. Expect that to change. It will take some time for the veterans to get used to it, and that is what the preseason is for, but the Oilers forecheck and their neutral zone pressure will be much more aggressive. Look for them to have almost a three-man forecheck. The third guy on the forecheck will need to make the right read,  he either jumps in, or spins off to limit an odd-man rush the other way. And whoever is the high forward will need to be aware of when the defence stand up at the blueline and ensure they are supporting them. All five players will need to be in sync for it to work properly, but after speaking to some players they are excited about the new aggressive approach.

9. “I think the scoring comes after a whole bunch of things,” said McLellan when asked if Yamamoto has to score his way onto the roster. “Scoring comes after the forecheck, the tenacity, the read, the react, the effort and putting yourself in a position to score. As long as they are doing the right things eventually they are going to score. We can’t pick our team based on convenience. We have to win games early, and we have to pick the players who give the Oilers the best chance of winning,” continued McLellan.

10. He then shared this nugget. “I brought a group of right wingers in the other day and discussed where we are in camp, before we started playing exhibition games. There might be room for two of those individuals and there may have been five or six individuals in the room. They will sort it out. Just because you played in the league before doesn’t mean you have a job.” He wouldn’t say who was in the room, but if I’m guessing it was Rattie, Yamamoto, Aberg, Puljujarvi, Kassian and Caggiula. That is just a guess.

TONIGHT…

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canucks are at home, but really don’t have that much more of an experienced lineup dressed with many young forwards. Close game sees the Oilers lose 4-3 in OT.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: There will be plenty “I can’t believe they signed Koskinen for $2.5 million comments.” It is only one game, but for that game, it is a valid statement.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canucks score on their first shot… kidding — Oilersnation would erupt if it happened. But Puljujarvi scores twice with his shorter and less whippy stick.

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  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I’m stoked to see that Benson-McLeod-Yamamoto line again. They’ve been the best rookie line so far. I hope McLeod gets some games this season. Thus far, he’s EARNED a look.

    • Jason Gregor

      He isn’t getting an NHL game this year, unless it is after his junior season, which is still highly unlikely. He has looked very good offensively, but the Oilers have two really good top-line centres. He could get another one or two preseason games, but he is going back to junior. His play away from puck needs to improve, like most young, skilled players, but he has made a very good first impression.

      • Jordan88

        Edmonton has 5 fantastic Center options… up and down the lines.

        McDavid, best C in the league.
        Draisaitl, A 2nd line center that can play both ends of the ice and can finish.
        Nuge 1st line winger formerly 1st/2nd line center, he can do anything and should put up points with McD
        Strome Became a solid middle six option he has hands and can make plays
        Brodziak is possibly the best 4th line center in the game right now.

        Edmonton is so solid down the middle its scary.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    Good article, thanks for clearing up the cap hit between the two goalies. Wasn’t sure how that worked. Personally, I don’t care who the back up is as long as he can stop the puck.

  • Redbird62

    So far McLeod has played well and looked very good, but has not faced any significant NHL competition yet. It’d be risky to keep McLeod to start the regular season for a 9 game test. To keep to a 23 man roster on opening day especially if they sign either Upshall or Chiasson, (or if they go with 8 D) a forward would probably have to be sent to the minors. And that forward, unless it was Jesse (like last year to allow Yamamoto his 9 game shot), would be exposed to waivers and possibly lost. I know a lot of the fan base at least on here would say waive Caggiula, who cares if he is claimed, but the Oilers don’t see it that way. Maybe if Aberg has a bad camp they would risk him but I doubt it, at least not for McLeod. Unless the Oilers are highly confident that McLeod would go beyond 9 games, they are not going to possibly give away any players just for him to get a 9 game trial.

  • vetinari

    Given the cap implications being nil with the backup goalies, and after everyone returns home from the overseas trip, I could easily see Talbot and Montoya starting in the NHL with Talbot getting the bulk of starts and Koskinen starting the month of October in Bakersfield and then Montoya and Koskinen switching spots come November (I assume Montoya would clear waivers) for the duration of the season subject to performances.

  • I think the East vs West (Canucks-Oilers) battle is more exciting and has replaced the North vs South battle of Alberta. Canucks and Oilers have fought some good battles, although a little one sided at times. In the eighties, the Oilers machine dominated. In the 2000’s it was the Sedins feasting on hapless Oilers. And now? We’ll see at 7.30.

  • OilCan2

    We could get a very interesting look into the future tonight. On a side note it’s about the waiver status for the back up goalies and Bouchard,s lack of AHL options to perhaps force an issue.

  • ROILYDoGG$

    We have really stocked the shelves with prospects to match other good teams. Now they just have to bring it to the bigs. McLeod could be the steal of the draft at the centre position. He will be our future 3rd line for the next 8 years. Him and Bensen and yamo would make a great 3rd pair in the next few years. Exciting times here in E town

    • TruthHurts98

      They actually need a better GM who can properly assess goalie talent. It’s obvious PC can’t very well. Terrible signing and I’ll put money on Montoya winning the backup job. Koskinen is bigger than Nilsson who we’ll see tonight but seems fundamentally more unsound that Jonas Gustavsson. Not good at all. Sure only one game, but so many bad habits that will be exposed against NHL talent.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Not 100% true… It’s Keith Gretzky that insisted on Koskinen. I really have to believe that 2.5 mil wouldn’t have been offered if there wasn’t some influence? Or, maybe “Mr. Hockey Canada” had some influence there…
        I don’t think Chiarelli alone would target Koskinen and offer 2.5 without some encouragement…
        Not sayings it was a good move, but give credit where it’s due. I don’t believe this is entirely on Chia completely…

      • jesse says yep

        IF Montoya wins the job what are the chances that Koskinen wants to play in the AHL. There is a chance that he packs it up and goes home. Which, IMO, would be mission accomplished for Chia if koskinen pushes Montoya and then the Oil get the cap space back if he bails.

  • Spoils

    I don’t understand why people don’t love preseason. first, it’s been forever. think of the blog posts two weeks ago. admit it you are all starving – plus you get a look at what could be. yammer and benson dominating… will Rattie come out flying?

    can’t wait.

    bonus you get a look at Petterson.

  • btrain

    Initially I figured Koskinen would be given a great deal of leash because of how terrible it will reflect on Chia for him to be anywhere but the NHL. However, the risk of losing Montoya to waivers and having Koskinan flop, is a bigger problem.

    Montoya has 168 games of NHL experience under his belt, he is very familiar with the backup role, and he has even excelled in this role at times in his career. In his 9 year career he has only had 2 season with losing records and has amassed 67 wins and 49 losses over this time period. The job of the backup is to give you a chance to win and Montoya has proven he can do that most often than not.

    Therefore, I am not sure how you can role the dice on Koskinen without using his waiver exemption and seeing what he can do at the AHL level.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Goalies are a funny thing indeed.
      At one time last year (not sure how he finished the season) Ben Scrievens had the best record in the KHL by far… Go figure…? I think Koskinen was #2? Weird?

  • D'oh-ilers

    Obviously, last night didn’t go the way Koskinen wanted, but goalies have games where they stand on their heads and games when they struggle to stop a beach ball. It’s too early to panic. That kind of thing happens to everyone at some point throughout the season, I’m just glad it happened in the pre-season and not the regular season. Hopefully, he gets into the groove and has a better showing in his next outing.

  • RobertO

    Pumped to watch some more NHL hackey tonight. How sweet it is to give the shames a beating, even if it’s preseason. With all the prospects looking good, seasoning in the Bake or in Jr., is it possible that we see a trade of Kass. Maybe pick and a prospect type thing?

  • grumpyKoala

    Not taking a piss on Koskinen or Montoya but I awlays wondering why we drop it on Nilsson so quickly. At 907% and considering he never played for a good team NYI BUF STL EDM VAN I think that even now he would be a very trusty piece of a backup. Lets hope he prouve me wrong tonight.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Kositsin ( cause it’s in ) could of have had a off game in Cowtown last night but if we see the same tonight,could be trouble on the Horizon. There have been a lot of KHL players who came to the NHL after having great success in the KHL but unable to find it in the NHL. TM doesnt like to to give players who arent living up to his standards a lot of rope ( vets seemed to be excluded for some reason ) But Brossoit couldnt gain any traction with TM, hence why Montoya appeared in Oilers silks, Kositsin might not fare to well if he pulls a stinker. but it will be Chia’s feet to the fire, he signed him for a lot of money and two years.

  • toprightcorner

    I thought from the beginning that it would be best for the Oilers if Koskinen plays 10 games in the AHL to start the season. Starting in the NHL makes no sense as he will only have 3 starts in the first 15 games. He needs starts to get comfortable and he won’t get many in preseason.

    I don’t care that he looked rough last night. The goal scoring across preseason is a clear indicator that no goalie starts off hot.

    Everyone should wait until at least a couple starts in the NHL before judging Koskinen.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I agree that Kositsin ought to start in the AHL, there is zero sense in him sitting on the bench if Talbot gets on a roll, and TM will roll with Talbot to get him in a rhythm , Montoya can back up Talbot while they let Kositsin get some games in and see how he does. Lets hope the Oils brain trust see’s that would best for Kositsin

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Jason, that was a great jersey story! I try to tell my kids it doesn’t matter what the score is as long as you’ve tried hard and had fun in the game, the rest will take care of itself.

  • Leichs

    How about Drake and Kass so far? Both to me have looked like the same players as last year. Turnovers, no ozone pressure. Drake slow getting back on multiple backchecks. First game of the year for them I know. On the other hand, the Jesse, Strome and Jujar line is really flying out there. Jesse looks like the fastest player on the ice and that shorter stick seems to have helped him handling the puck and making plays. My two cents after two periods. Oh and Tablot looks like a man possessed.

    • Kevwan

      I agree on Strome’s line looking good – JP using his size and reach at both ends. Yamo, Benson and McLeod having another strong game. Marody and Jones looking good also. Garrison having some good and some bad – He makes up for lack of speed with smart positioning.

      Talbot looks like the guy that got Vezina votes in ’16. Overall a couple of good periods for the Oilers

    • bradleypi

      Lol. Guy couldn’t even wait till the end of the first preseason game to rag on Drake. Never change oilersnation. Hope he scored in the 3rd. My favorite play of the game so far is the smallest guy on the ice Yamamoto crashing the net which resulted in a goal. Great effort. Talbot’s save is right up there as well