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Game Notes Sharks @ Oilers: How does Koskinen Improve?

Since Cam Talbot was traded on February 15th, Mikko Koskinen has started 22 games. That is tied for the most in the NHL. I understand playing him a lot, but starting 22 of 23 games is overkill. If he was playing as well as Darcy Kuemper, also 22 starts, then sure, I could see the rationale, but Koskinen has struggled for the past ten starts.

1. The Oilers were officially eliminated on Monday. If they were still in contention then I could see going with Koskinen, but they weren’t so why not give him a night off? A source told me part of that decision was based on Anthony Stolarz having a slight knee issue. So they went with Koskinen. Was it wise? I don’t think so, and I suspect Stolarz will start tonight.

2. I don’t understand the anger from some regarding Stolarz’s pending UFA status. The Oilers clearly need a proven veteran backup. Ask the Toronto Maple Leafs about their decision to let Curtis McElhinney go on waivers to keep Garrett Sparks. McElhinney is 19-11-2 for the Hurricanes with a solid .912sv%, while Sparks is 8-9-1 with a .902sv%. Going with an unproven backup will often force a team to play their starter more. The Oilers clearly need a veteran backup, so even if Stolarz played ten games in Edmonton I didn’t see them qualifying him. They have Shane Starrett as their clear #3 next year. They don’t need Storalz, and despite what some think, teams weren’t going to trade a late draft pick for him this off-season.

3. In 113 AHL games Stolarz is 50-41-16 with a .910sv% and a 2.93GAA. He has 15 NHL starts and is 6-5-4 with a .908sv% and a 2.90 GAA. The Oilers can not afford to start next season without an experienced backup, and one who might push for more playing time if Koskinen struggles.

4. I never liked the timing of the Koskinen signing. I didn’t see the need to rush it. You could have signed him on April 15th, and likely to a cheaper contract. His signing, which Bob Nicholson said was an organizational decision, illustrates why there needs to be more changes in management. Their pro scouting evaluations simply have not been good enough.

5. I’m not ready to say Koskinen can’t be a starter. He has had really good stretches this season, but equal stretches where he struggled. I won’t say he can’t improve, because look at the difference in Jacob Markstrom (he is 29 year old) this year, compared to last season. But if I was the GM I would make sure I sign a proven, capable backup in case he doesn’t. They need a good plan. Pending UFA goalies who fit that role include Petr Mrazek, Cam Ward, Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Curtis McElhinney, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson and Cam Talbot. Talbot had said he wasn’t re-signing in Edmonton, according to Nicholson, so I don’t see him returning. Mrazek would be my first choice, followed by Elliott, Neuvirth and McElhinney.

6. Had the Oilers not signed Koskinen, the list of free agent starters to go after is very shallow. It includes Sergei Bobrovsky, Seymon Varlamov, Mike Smith and Robin Lehner. I fully expect Lehner to re-sign with the Islanders. Bobrovsky will want a huge contract, and I’d be leery of paying a goalie $9 million+ for seven years. Would you want a 36-year-old Mike Smith as the starter? No, but you might look at him as a backup or split duties with Koskinen next year. So Varlamov would be the only one on the market. I didn’t like the timing of the Koskinen’s signing, or the term, especially because I think you could have got him much cheaper today, and there was zero rush to sign him in January. But there were very few other options. I think the organization panicked on signing him in January, and now the onus is on him to improve.

7. What does he need to improve? Kevin Woodley, from In Goal Magazine, discussed it.

“The goal against the Kings, on a one-timer high in the zone beats him clean on the glove side and I thought that it was a great example.

“There are two issues; one is that he is not set, and still moving, and two, he is off angle and not square. He gets to the middle, but he rarely gets his angle in terms of being square and set, and there is a lot of extra movement. You look at it, and it is glove side, so people think his glove hand must suck. You could have hands of Sidney Crosby, but if you’re not square and you’re not facing the puck, and you’re still moving in one direction while it’s being hammered the other way, it doesn’t matter how good your hand is. You won’t stop it.”

8. Woodley then broke down what he sees as lacking in Koskinen’s game right now.

“This is why “set and square” is one of the most important elements of positioning and it’s the footwork and the stance and the set up that gets you there. I’m not pretending the glove side isn’t an issue, when the shot is on the way; his left side is ahead of his right side. He’s almost faded off to that glove side, he’s got it sort of pulled back rather than squared it up. That does two things; it makes it harder if you’re moving to catch pucks, and pucks tend to find their way through goaltenders most often when they’re not square.

“Think in terms of moving into a shot or squaring down, being off angle, everything is glancing off you. You’re not squaring into it with your glove, arm, side of the body, with the side of your pants, it doesn’t matter where it hits you.  All of those things are angled towards the net, rather than back out towards the shooter set and square, and I see this in a lot of the goals against him recently.

“In the Kings game, the Doughty powerplay goal we saw the windmill motion (with his glove), but the reality is he was not even close to set on that play. Rather than be on his feet, he’s sliding, and when the play is moving back for the one timer, he is just stopping out of his slide. He doesn’t get close to being set. Not pretending the glove isn’t the issue, to me that is the symptom.

The cure for the disease is lies in the movement, and getting himself set. Corey Perry’s goal on Saturday, a pretty clean look, but Mikko isn’t square, he is off angle. He gets a piece of it, but what happens? It goes through him. Again, not set, not square, not being able to move most of your body square into that shot. The last Rakell goal, it’s the same thing, he’s not fully set, he is still moving, and again he’s not fully square. He’s more square to the goal line than he is to the shooter.  Again, that glove side is pulled back towards the middle of the net. If I can see that he’s not on angle, goalie coaches can see it, and it’s in scouting reports.”

9. I love how Woodley explains things. He describes it in a way a non-goalie can understand. Okay, so we see the issue, but…, Can he fix it? How does he fix it?

“It is really easy for me to say what’s wrong, but fixing it, that requires a teacher, that requires a goalie coach,” said Woodley. “The challenge is exasperated by his size. A lot of what you see in his movement in getting behind the play is tied to his low wide stance. When you’re that locked in low and wide, you have to unwind, and come up and out of your stance before you move. You can’t just gain angles quickly in your movement. You almost have to pull up, push laterally, stop, and then come in the set. That is why I believe he makes a lot of movements where he slides, rather than being on his skates. 

“I don’t know if there is an easy fix, as a really tall goaltender like that. Here’s the irony, I am seeing this in Jacob Markstrom this year, a 6’6” goaltender, doesn’t quite have the length of Mikko, but a big and long goaltender, and one of the biggest changes in his game this year is getting rid of that low, locked in wide stance, and playing from a narrower more upright position. It is allowing him to beat pucks laterally, and get to spots early, establish position and scan the ice. All the elements that have changed in Markstrom’s game, are things I think would translate quite well into Koskinen’s game. 

But it is not a transition to make in season, and it can be a tough one to buy in on, especially for a tall goaltender, if he feels vulnerable with his feet narrow, that high in his stance, and that far away from the ice. That’s something that I don’t know if he can overcome, I hope they get a chance to work on it in the summer, because I do believe that narrowing that stance would probably make it easier to fix a lot of the other problems. I would point to Markstrom as an example of how narrowing the stance can help a tall goalie.”

10. What is interesting about Markstrom is that his numbers don’t look much different from last season, but he has played much better according to him, the team and people who cover and watch the Canucks. How much can Koskinen improve? I don’t know, but it is clear he will need to alter his style. As Woodley pointed out a narrower stance might help, but regardless of what he does when he comes to camp next season he will net to be more set and square to have any chance of being a reliable starting goalie.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 4/4/2019 – 7:00 am MT

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    First off Koskine shouldnt even see the ice, save him for the flames game and give him a break. 24 of 25 starts is insane and the guys isnt used to playing that much. 2nd Find him a proven NHL goaltending coach to work with cause Schwartz isnt it. If I am Koskinens agent I am letting Mikko rest for a couple mnths then I am finding him the best Galotending and tactics coach to work on his tracking and positions. Schwartz has him going down way to early and staying down too long and he gets scored on way to much over top and the whole damn NHL knows to go high it was the same with Talbot… that isnt a coincedence that is bad habits from Schwartz. Mikko needs to work in the off season with someone and get it worked out well before camp, cause that needs to get straightened out. and the Oilers need a new goalie coach whatever possessed them to think that Schwartz should be the man to take over fropm Chabot was ludicrous. Schwartz had a great career at the Uof A… but he needs to be releaved of his duties after last year…let alone this year. and the Oilers better start looking for a 1A because we just saw that Koskinen can not do 40 games… Talbot could Mikko cant and that is a problem when we have him signed to that kind of term and money and that was dumb as hell based on a handful of games. They have no plans for Stolarz in the system… so they are headed down the road to next season with a a number 1 who doesnt look like he could be a number 1 in the ECHL right now.. Let Koskine rest, let Stolzrz play and Let Koskinen play out the night in Calgary and hope he plays a good game there… and hope like hell he gets things 3worked out in the off season and start searching for a new goalie coach as soon as the season ends and give Schwartz his walking papaers

  • camdog

    Early in season Koskinen was having trouble post to post getting beat on bad angles. Part of that is adjusting different game from KHL. Part of that is what we see here. It’s always been his feet and getting his position. Butterfly only works for guys strong on their skates and good in positioning. He’s got the reflexes with the feet he doesn’t need to go down to make that save ala Bill Ranford.

    And with big guys, like that you don’t play them 24 out of 25 games, that shouldn’t need to be stated, not in today’s NHL.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Burke is an excellent goalie coach, but the Oilers needs someone who is a vast improvement ovber Schwartz. Schwartz could nto cure any of Talbots defecencies in two seasons….. and he hasnt done anything to cure Koskinen’s, so I sure as hell wouldnt leave him in charge to look after the goalies next season. The Oiler have to find a proven NHL goaltending coach, they never searched for one after they fired Chabot they just gave the job to Schwartz which I thought was a horrible move way back then

      • percy

        You have to wonder who in this organization is suppose to make these decisions. Who ever it is needs to be let go. It’s not hard to see that Schwartz needs to be replaced. But then again we are dealing with the Oilers organization here.

  • Ted

    I’ve seen Kosky play some excellent hockey but I feel the team in front of him is letting him down. … In part I really don’t like how the defense back in to far and allow shots on goal. At least force the shooter to a bad position and get on them quicker! … Way to many easy shots allowed. Sadly they are also finding the back of the net far to often as well! … This whole thing about trading RNH gives me shivers. If anything he has the best hockey IQ of the bunch and to lose that for a so called top defender makes me cringe. I’m not sure what the fix is to get a top defence man with IQ but maybe the player is coming from our AHL team? But the defense must get at least a 50% overhaul for next season. … Please let Stolarz play tonight at any rate!!

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    ufa goalie list shallow? than go to the khl and overpay for one on a one year 2.5m. Results should be the same as this year and the next 3 projected years no?

  • TKB2677

    Am I 100% certain that Koskinen can be a good starter? NO
    But could he be decent? I think he could. He has shown stretches of really high level hockey. The guy has played 24 of 25 games which is too much. No one said Talbot couldn’t be a starter when he was playing that much and struggled. If you go look up Koskinen’s stats, he played 41 games in the KHL twice, last season it was 29 games. So to go from 30 games to 54 is massive. So he’s tired. With another offseason, he will be better prepared. The also need to get a good back up. Gone are the days where you can expect your starter to play 65+ games. They need a guy who can give you 25-30 games.

  • OldOilFan

    Second coming of KneeDropTalbot…

    Why on earth can’t a 6’7″ man stay on his feet in front of a 4′ net?? Scoring is up across the league because ALL goalies nowadays seem to play on their knees. It’s embarrassing to watch.

    I’d urge these guys (the bigger ones especially) to stay on their feet and come out square to the shooter. If the goalie does that, the shooter’s got nothing to shoot at.

    • OldOilFan

      edit: coming out to meet the shooter helps in a second way – it alters the type of rebound. Either the shooter is forced to shoot high and wide, or the goalie directs a hard rebound off his pads and out of danger… worth a try.

    • HockeyRooster

      I agree that goalies spend way too much time on their knees but you are wrong saying the shooters got nothing to shoot at when their standing. There are always holes-whether the goalie is standing or in the butterfly. They are playing the percentages by going down early. The better goalies get set properly and make more saves. The weaker ones just don’t. I think Koskinen’s problems can be fixed to some extent. Time will tell whether it happens. I feel very strongly that a goaltending coach change needs to happen though!

      • Derzie

        A day will come where some guy will eat his way to being big enough to fill the whole net while on his knees. Only way you’ll score is if he lays down to nap or goes to the bench for a taco.

  • Himynameistaylor

    So what you’re saying it’s not necessarily koskinens glove hand that’s been the issue, but the fact he should shave a few inches off how wide his ready stance is, his angle play needs adjusted and he’s having issues tracking pucks?

    It’s almost like someone here pointed that out months ago, gosh I can’t remember who for the life of me said all this…someone with experience playing the position.

    God for the life of me who said that?

    Oh me! Right yes. I was right. Shocker.

  • Goon

    Cam Ward isn’t a “proven NHL goalie”. Cam Ward is probably the worst goalie in the NHL this year, and hasn’t posted even league-average numbers since before the last lockout. The Oilers would be better pulling a random goalie from the NCAA or SHL than they would be signing 36-year-old, .894 sv% Cam Ward to be their backup.

  • Hemmercules

    Now the media is starting to talk about when McD will ask for a trade. I don’t see it happening this year but I would not blame Connor even the slightest bit if it came to that. If he does eventually ask for a trade that will be it for me I think. I couldn’t continue to support a team that let something like that happen. There is no way in hell the Oilers win that deal either. Probably get 5 plugs for him from the Kings or something like that.

  • Rick Stroppel

    Koskinen is what he is. Right around this time last season, we were seeing multiple articles about how Milan Lucic should hire a “skills coach” and all would be well. How did that turn out? Lucic has 6 goals and is making 6 million dollars a year. Lucic is what he is. Is there a goalie coach out there who might help improve some aspects of Koskinen’s game? Yes. Is there any possibility of the Oilers contending for a Stanley Cup with Koskinen as their starter? No.

    The bigger problem is this. Nicholson said the Koskinen contract was a JOINT decision by people in management, not just Chiarelli. Anyone else who was involved in the Koskinen decision- K. Gretzky, any pro scouts, any members of the OBC, Nicholson himself-should be fired. Koskinen is not good enough, and he makes way too much money.

    • OldOilFan

      Agree, but maybe differ on the motivation for the Kosko extension: I think it was for public relations, a showing of decision making, confidence builder for the team, etc. Failed miserably. Oh well, at least now mgmt can lick their wounds and try to scrape together “Bob” money. It was a similar situation way back when, when they got Khabibulin. Worked out pretty well??

    • camdog

      If it was a joint decision it must have been made last summer. Since Nicholson is on record stating emphatically that PC was doing things on his own the last few months. The logical conclusion is that the Oilers determined last summer that they were giving this contract to the better of Talbot/Koskinen. Same contract as Talbot’s original 3 year deal with inflation.

      Nicholson said they weren’t going to go in off season without a goalie. This wasn’t a spur of the minute decision…

      • OldOilFan

        Despite mgmt’s statements about PC and the Kosko extension, I don’t believe for a minute that PC executed that deal all on his own. PC was already “walking the plank” towards his firing [which soon followed] at that time. Regardless, the Kosko extension made no sense – either at the time, or since.

        • camdog

          Nicholson’s made enough comments on the scarcity of the goalie market and not wanting to go into off season without goalie to understand the decision was made in June/July/August. Just need the quotes from the different conversations with Nicholson put in the same blog. It’s all things he’s said at different times.

          • tkfisher

            The irony of the situation is they signed a guy and are still going into the off season without a “goalie”. They currently have someone standing in net, but i’m pretty sure an “NHL goalie” needs to stop more than 90% of shots.

  • tkfisher

    And the Oilers are finding out with goalies what should be obvious. Any scout/coach with an eye for hockey should have been able to see these issue long ago. Woodley sees these things clear as day, but no one in the organization saw them prior to signing a big contract. That’s one of the biggest issues with this team *amid a list of other major ones. A big goalie is good to a point. With any player, having a large size is great, but you sacrifice speed, quickness and mobility. I love the break down of his game, Mikko is too big, to have the quickness that he need to have to be set, square and have his angles down. Knowing the Oilers they will draft a goalie two years from now that is 6 foot 11, because he’s 6 foot 11. This team constantly behind the learning curve. Maybe a goalies sweet spot is 6’2-6’4 and can actually play the position at a pro level is a place to start. I’m sick of the way this team is run. I get the sense that bloggers and 3/4 of fans could have done better job running the team for the past decade.

    • OldOilFan

      Excellent points you made. In fact, I’m personally betting that the ‘smaller, quicker, goalie’ will become the new trend. I mean, the recent trends in the game -set off by Pitt’s back to back successes winning the Cup- such as fast north-south hockey, a roster composed of a handful of elite high-salaried players combined with ELC/AHL guys, are where the game has gone (i.e. past tense). Change is inevitable, and the future of the game is not set in stone. The first team to ‘gamble’ on a new approach will be the farthest ahead if they succeed.

      The PC Oiler roster-strategy was formed by PC looking in his ‘rearview mirror.’ He got it exactly wrong. So, hopefully, Oil mgmt will attempt to anticipate where the game is going next, not be overly focused on where it is now.

      Gretzky’s brilliance as a player was often attributed to his focus on going to wherever the puck was going to go next, NOT to where the puck already was. His greatness encompassed more than that, of course, but the above was a big part of it. Today’s Oiler mgmt could do worse than to take a page out of Gretz’s book in this respect.

      • Cageyvet

        Canuck fan here, I have lots of time for smaller, agile goalies, I watched Richard Brodeur go on a run and he was not tall. Today, though, too small can be a problem, I see lots of guys going high as even the big guys in the butterfly leave openings.

        Regarding Koskinen, he does remind me of Markstrom, who Ian Clarke took over the top to become an actual starter. His numbers for the year are like last year, but since December they’re top ten in the league. He is far more mobile, and doesn’t let disgusting softies in, and the move to a more upright stance was key. There’s hope yet, but as the article says, he needs to buy in to the change and put in the work.

  • Derkus the circus

    Just another leaky goalie that wont live up to his contract. Thanks to mngmnt he is in for a pressure packed duration of his contract unless some other goalie coach can help. Looking like Dubnyk #2. Once he leaves and finds better coaching he’ll be better. Look for him to be run out of town by next year and bought out.

  • Vanoil

    OUCH … so essentially we invested all that money in a would-be starter without doing the diligence in whether he can or is even willing to try to improve his game. No goalie coach in-put (or, if there was fire him, he is useless). I hope the new GM brings a quality No.1 Goalie with him …. (Malcolm Subban? & Kelley McCrimmon???? Hell I would even take Vegas’ No.3 he stood on his head last year when they went through 5 goalies mid-season).

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Jason, here are some actual stats (non-blended just for you) for Cam Talbot this season.
    Cam Talbot in Edm: SV% 0.893, GGA 3.36
    Cam Talbot in Phil: SV% 0.881, GAA 3.70