When a team has two goaltenders that are struggling, it’s not really as much a goaltending “controversy” as it is a straight up goaltending “problem”. Cam Talbot came into this season as a lock to be the Oilers number one goalie, but that title quickly evaporated as Talbot struggled and Mikko Koskinen began to surge.
Before Wednesday, Koskinen had started in four consecutive games for the Oilers, stopping 108 shots and allowing just six goals. He was brilliant and was honestly the biggest reason they grabbed six out of a potential eight points in that span.
Talbot got the start Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues and looked more like the Talbot we saw in 2016-17 than the goalie that has a sub .900 save percentage this season.
Koskinen is coming off a really solid stretch of hockey, although his last start did result in a loss, albeit a loss that you can’t really peg on him. Talbot, on the other hand, played fantastic in his last start but has barely seen any action over the past few weeks.
With a game tomorrow night against the Minnesota Wild followed by a massive divisional tilt against the Calgary Flames on Sunday, how should Ken Hitchcock handle the goalies for these starts? Here are some three lines of thinking when it comes to the Oilers goaltending controversy:
WIN AND YOU’RE IN
I believe this approach is the best way to create a true competition between two goaltenders. Cam Talbot started last game and stopped enough pucks for them to win the game, so why wouldn’t you throw him right back out there?
The downside to this approach is that if a goalie has a strong game but doesn’t get any offensive support, then is it really fair to punish him for that? You could say that’s exactly what happened in the loss to Dallas. Koskinen looked solid, but the Oilers didn’t have Connor McDavid in the lineup and couldn’t find the back of the net. Two of the goals that went in for just lucky bounces for the Stars as well, so you can’t say Mikko didn’t give the Oilers a chance to win that hockey game.
In principle, the idea of just rolling with the winning goalie makes sense, but there are some flaws that come with it.
MIKKO IS THE STARTER
Koskinen has started 12 games for the Oilers this season and posted a save percentage above .900 in seven of those starts. He’s only allowed more than three goals once and that was when he got the start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game which was the second half of a back-to-back.
His 2.23 GAA is second among NHL starters, only Pekka Rinne is better, while his 0.925 save percentage ranks ninth amongst qualified goaltenders. Not only is he posting great individual numbers, but he’s got an 8-3-1 record to go with it.
Another stat that favours Koskinen is high-danger save percentage. Even under Ken Hitchcock, the Oilers give up a good amount of high-danger looks and Koskinen has a high-danger save percentage of 0.844 while Talbots sits down at 0.814.
When Talbot slipped Koskinen stepped up and, to an extent, saved this teams season. Perhaps he deserves more respect than many, myself included, are giving him. Play him against Minnesota and if he delivers another solid performance, play him Sunday night against the Flames as well.
THE OILERS NEED CAM TALBOT
We all remember how well Cam Talbot played in 2016-17. He won them games down the stretch and was a big reason they came within a game of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
He struggled last year, and his doubters will be quick to point out that he’s only had one good season as an NHL starter. I don’t think that is true. His last season in New York he started over 36 games. While that isn’t a starter’s workload, he took over the crease when Henrik Lundqvist got hurt and played like a legitimate number one in that time.
His first year in Edmonton started slow, but by the end of the year he had started 56 games and posted a 0.917 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA. He’s proven that he can handle a starter’s workload on multiple occasions, which is more than Mikko Koskinen has done. That’s not a knock on the Finnish goaltender, it’s just a fact.
Some will say that if the Oilers want to make the playoffs, they’ll need both goalies playing extremely well all season, and I tend to agree with that. Despite his struggles, a lot of this seasons success still rides on Cam Talbot simply because Koskinen is still a little unpredictable. We haven’t seen him be an NHL starter for an entire season the way we’ve seen Talbot do it.
Allowing Talbot to get his confidence back is important and he’s coming off a start that can be seen as a good building block. Give him the start against Minnesota and if he plays good, keep running with him.
I was not a fan of the Mikko Koskinen signing. You’d be hard pressed to find an Oilers fan who was. But he has proven me wrong thus far. While there are still moments where he looks shaky, he’s looked every bit like a legitimate number one goaltender. He probably deserves to get the start against Minnesota and it appears most Oilers fans would agree with me.
Talbot looked solid tonight… who would you start Friday vs the Wild?
— Tyler Yaremchuk (@tyleryaremchuk) December 6, 2018
Still, there is a part of me that thinks that if the Oilers want to make the playoffs and go on a legitimate run, they’ll need Cam Talbot to play the way he did in 2016-17 and for that to happen, he needs to actually play.
So how would I handle the situation? I would give Koskinen the start Friday against the Wild and if he stands on his head and steals the game, then I suppose you would have to start him again on Sunday. If he comes in and has a decent game and they win, or if he struggles and they lose, then I would put Talbot between the pipes against Calgary. Send him the message that you still have faith in him and trust that he can win you big games.
I know lots of fans will disagree with that, but I suppose I’m more of a Talbot supporter than most. I think he still has the ability to be a legitimate number one goalie in this league.
What say you, Oilersnation? Give Koskinen both? Split them evenly? Win and you’re in? Is this Mikko’s crease? Let me know your thoughts, or just tell me how wrong I am!