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