Whenever I can, I stop out at the Little Lot, a classic car place off Winterburn Road on the outskirts of town, to shoot the breeze with my pal Jeff Danyluk about old cars and hockey. I like to think that I know a lot about both, and he likes to pick my brain about the Edmonton Oilers while I kick tires around his place.
When it comes to goaltenders, I tend to jump to conclusions very quickly based on first impressions – how they move, what their reactions are like. For me, it’s a feel thing, not a spreadsheet thing. I spent 20 minutes one Saturday afternoon during the pre-season ripping Mikko Koskinen for how badly he looked, how stiff his hands were. I went on and on – I think I told Jeff he could write it in ink – that Koskinen would fall on his face and be a brutal, over-priced mistake by GM Pete Chiarelli.
I know I wasn’t alone in that opinion, but after Koskinen’s silky smooth 40-save performance in a 4-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, I already know I was dead-wrong about the big Finn. After beating the Nashville Predators 5-3 Oct. 27 in his first start with the Oilers, Koskinen took it up another notch or two in waxing the Blackhawks. One great night does not a career make, but I fully expect an earful of razz from Jeff the next time I stop by. As it should be.
I used to call an outing like Koskinen turned in Thursday SIUTBOHC – a performance that shoved it up the backsides of his critics – and this was certainly that. More important than whether I was right or wrong, maybe Chiarelli got it right when he coughed up $2.5 million for a back-up who can spell off Cam Talbot without having the crease turn into a tire fire. Based on a longer look, there is at least a possibility that’s the case when I thought there was none.
SO FAR SO GOOD
Koskinen, 30, was an expensive bet by Chiarelli — a goaltender who hadn’t played in the NHL since 2010-11, when he got into four games with the New York Islanders. Like me, a lot of people were rolling their eyes in the pre-season. Koskinen, all six-foot-seven of him, looked awkward. Bad hands. Lousy control of rebounds. Since then, he’s been better every time out. After going .873 with the Islanders, he’s .955 today with the 7-4-1 Oilers on the way to Detroit to start a four-game road swing.
“Honestly, I only care if we win or lose, so it feels good because we won,” said Koskinen, who got into a groove with 15 saves in the first period and stayed in it. “That’s all that matters. We need points and we got two, so we’re happy.” Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville had a front row seat. “Their goalie was getting confidence as the game progressed.”
The problem for me right out of the blocks with Koskinen was his price point. There were several options out there last off-season who came a lot cheaper than $2.5 million. I know that colored my opinion of the towering stopper before I ever saw him during the pre-season. Might Koskinen be a bargain? Still too early to say, but he’s damn sure better than I thought he would be at first glance. That brings me back to the Little Lot.
In the classic car business, there are cars known as 20-footers. From 20 feet away, they look great. Good-looking paint. Nice chrome. Priced right. Get a little closer, take a longer look, and you see the flaws. Full of body-filler. Tires burned off. Suspension shot. Motor sounds like it’s ready to grenade itself. Interior worn out and it smells like there’s a corpse in the trunk. What looks like a great deal is really a POS money-pit when you look a little closer. I never get sucked in by one of those, but some people do.
Koskinen looks like he might be the flipside of that. He wasn’t much of a looker early on, but I’m liking him more the longer I look – granted, that’s only two games, but he’s been way better than I thought he had any chance to be at first glance. There’s no doubt we’ll get another look at him on the upcoming road trip. If he can play 20 games this season and give the Oilers a chance to win every time out, the initial sticker shock won’t matter a bit.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- There was much moaning in some corners about Drake Caggiula getting another look alongside Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night. Caggiula responded with two goals, including a shorty, to provide his own version of SIUTBOHC. He’s now got four goals in just eight games this season, fourth on the team to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson. Caggiula’s not a long-term fit on the first line, but he he’s better than some people are willing to give him credit for.
- Smart play by the Oilers sending Evan Bouchard to London of the OHL and calling up Kevin Gravel. Bouchard showed well here, but he’ll head back to the Knights with a couple of pay cheques in his pocket and a chance to get in the kind of minutes he needs. He’ll be back, and he’ll stay.