With a roster as flawed as the one coach Ken Hitchcock is trying to coax into the playoffs, there’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the shortcomings that have the Edmonton Oilers spinning their wheels as they try to stay in post-season contention. That has been obvious for months.
There wasn’t, however, any doubt where Hitchcock was looking after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens Sunday after watching his team blow a third-period lead and a precious point, just as they did in a 5-4 OT loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in their first game back after the all-star break. That would be you, Mikko Koskinen.
“We played a perfect third period. It’s the best we’ve played on the road all year,” said an obviously frustrated Hitchcock, who got two pretty solid efforts from his team on the weekend but just two of four available points. “We did everything we needed to do. We’ve got to have a save.
“We had them frustrated. They couldn’t get through the neutral zone. We were turning pucks over and creating scoring chances. We played one helluva third period. That’s the best I’ve seen a team play for a long time. We had perfect positioning . . . our checking was unbelievable. We did a helluva job, but, like I said, we’ve got to have a save there.”
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
As slim as the Oilers playoff hopes are with 30 games remaining, they’ll turn to none with any more displays like the one Koskinen turned in Sunday. The towering Finn allowed four goals on 27 shots, most notably one he’d like to have back on a wraparound and on the 3-3 goal by Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Koskinen lost sight of the puck and then wasn’t squared up at the post when Kotkaniemi lifted it over him from in tight.
Again, there’s plenty of blame to go around – the abysmal penalty killing against the Flyers in Philadelphia the day before sticks out like a sore thumb – but there’s no question the Oilers haven’t been getting good enough goaltending when they need it most from Koskinen or Cam Talbot.
Adding to the frustration for fans is the three-year contract extension worth $13.5 million Koskinen got from outgoing GM Peter Chiarelli. The timing of the deal seemed bizarre at best and that’s been compounded by Koskinen’s struggles of late. In his last five appearances, he’s allowed 17 goals on 128 shots with save percentages of .852, .889. .833, .893 and .909.
Through 29 games with the Oilers, Koskinen is 14-11-2 with a save percentage of .908 and a goals-against average of 2.84. It that good enough for a stopper signed for the next three years? Talbot has been worse than that. In his last five games, Talbot has allowed 18 goals on 130 shots, going .872, .800. .897, .900 and .765. He’s 9-13-3 and .893.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Koskinen has had ridiculously hot stretches this season, but there’s also been times when he’s struggled. While the numbers don’t fall solely on the shoulders of any goaltender, I don’t think there’s much debate about that. Big picture, I’m not convinced Koskinen is the goaltender this team can lean on moving forward.
As for Talbot, he’s almost certainly headed down the road at some point even if the Oilers have said they’d be interested in re-signing him. Nothing says “go away” like committing term and money to another goaltender with such a short track record and then offering back-up money as a consolation prize to a guy who has been your starter, like Talbot.
Here and now, the Oilers need almost everything to go right to have any real chance at a playoff spot, and that includes getting some timely goaltending the rest of the way. Koskinen and Talbot haven’t been close to good enough often enough. Without that, getting balanced scoring, better special teams, the return of Oscar Klefbom and blah, blah, blah aren’t going to matter.