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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Comfort Zone

Maybe I’m nit-picking with not much new happening during the dog days of the NHL off-season, but something Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Mikko Koskinen said during a telephone interview from Finland this week stuck with me because what he said clashed with what I saw last season.

“At the start, it took quite a lot of time to get used to the rink and all the angles,” Koskinen, who played in 55 games for the Oilers, told Paul Gazzola of EdmontonOilers.com. “Now, it’s easier. I know what to expect and what I need to do better this year. It helps a lot to prepare for the upcoming season.” The interview is here.

If Koskinen, who broke into the NHL in 2010-11 by playing four games with the New York Islanders, better knows what to expect this coming season, that’s good because the Oilers are counting on him to be better. That’s a bet outgoing GM Peter Chiarelli made on the way out the door when he signed Koskinen to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million.

I think it was a bad bet by Chiarelli, but be that as it may, Koskinen will share the goal crease with reclamation project Mike Smith in 2019-2020 unless Ken Holland can come up with another plan. The thing is, taken literally, Koskinen saying it took a lot of time to get used to the rinks and angles doesn’t line up with what I saw.

UP AND DOWN

What I think we can agree on is that the swings in Koskinen’s performance were huge. He was very good or very bad, with not much time in the middle on the way to finishing with a record of 25-21-6, a .906 save-percentage, 2.93 GAA and four shutouts. You can go well beyond those numbers into 5-on-5 save percentage, quality of shots faced and so on, but that’s the big picture.

Save-percentage doesn’t tell the whole story, but when I look at it the swings are obvious. In his 55 games, Koskinen had a .930-or-better save-percentage 21 times. That’s lights out. In those games, Koskinen had 17 wins, two losses and two no-decisions. All told in his 25 wins, Koskinen was .942 with a 1.79 GAA.

On the flipside, Koskinen was under .900 in 27 games. I’m not using .900 as a cut-off point because it’s good enough, but because it’s so bad you have almost no chance to win. In those 27 games, Koskinen had five wins, 18 losses and four no-decisions. All told, in his 21 losses, Koskinen was .855 with a 4.60 GAA.

Win or lose, the book on the six-foot-seven Koskinen last season was that he too often made himself small and that high to the glove side was the place to shoot (as is the case with many goaltenders). That held true from wire to wire in every building. That takes me back to Koskinen talking about getting used to the rinks and the angles after playing on European ice.

EARLY RESULTS

Koskinen’s best month for save-percentage was November. After playing just one game in October, winning despite allowing three goals on 27 shots (.889), Koskinen saw action in 10 games in November and went 6-2-1 with a .927. His best month for wins was March (seven in 13 games). Here are all his splits by month:

October: 1 GP 1-0-0 .889

November: 10 GP 6-2-1 .927

December: 9 GP 4-5-0 .907

January: 8 GP 3-4-0 .891

February: 11 GP 3-4-3 .904

March: 13 GP 7-4-2 .901

April: 3 GP 1-2-0 .900

In Koskinen’s first 27 games, he was .930-or-better nine times compared to 12 times in his final 28 games. In his first 27 games, Koskinen was .900-or-under 13 times compared to 14 times in his final 28 games.

Again, there’s more at play than just one statistic like save-percentage, as I’ve noted. The Oilers rode Koskinen hard at the end of the season, playing him in 27 of the final 32 games, so there’s a good chance he was running on fumes. So, while Koskinen might have felt more comfortable as he settled in, it didn’t really manifest itself in the results.

Simply put, I saw a wildly inconsistent goaltender, great in some stretches and awful in others, from wire-to-wire. Maybe that’s just me. We’ll see.

  • Biomass

    So basically what we’re saying is that there was no trend whatsoever, to either improvement or degradation. It’s a concern that Koskinen thinks that there WAS a trend.

      • Oilman99

        When he was bad, there were other problems other than angles, poor glove hand on top left hand shots, and losing track of rebounds with no idea where the puck was, to name just a couple.

  • Kepler62c

    I think it’s hard to judge the guy for saying he felt more comfortable in net towards the end than at the start by statistics… yes, it would appear statistically he was a lights out Vezina candidate in November — to say that means he was comfortable with the new rink size and angles would me a massive stretch. At the end, he was posting below average backup goalie numbers — to say that means he wasn’t getting more comfortable with his surroundings is also a stretch.

    Pretty sure he knows how he was feeling about playing in a new league a lot better than you can glean from statistics — and this coming from a guy who loves math.

  • Bond 0097

    Have we fired the goalie coach yet and if not WHY NOT? Koskinen seemed to be upstanding at the start of the year, but as the season went on he was going to his knees to early and too often, much like Talbot. So that is a coaching flaw as far as I can tell and he needs to go.

  • Bond 0097

    Another contributor to Kosky’s record was injuries to the defence. He was god when the whole team was good, and he was bad when Klefbom and Russel were out. When they came back he started to play better, so no rocket science there folks. Confidence is huge for a goalie and if his defence is weak in front of him, chances are good confidence is low. I think he will be fine this year as long as the defence stays healthy

  • BR

    A lot of his bad nights came off goals where you could see that he still wasn’t adjusted from the Euro ice, bad angle positioning etc. And he seemed to get weaker on his glove hand as the season went on, maybe focusing too much to another perceived weakness by the coaches and he over-compensated.

    Would expect a lot of these issues to be ironed out coming into this season and slight jump in the numbers, he was also overplayed down the stretch so being more rested and maybe getting some tips from Smith could help.

    The biggest help will come from a better defense in front of him. If they can stay healthy, and Tippet manages to do what he managed to do on his other teams and get shots coming from further out with cleaner line of sight for the goalie, he should get at least above league average.

    Also, our penalty kill should improve somewhat, would be better to have a legit PK center, but Nygard, Granlund, Archibald, and Haas all seem to have the tools to be good PK forwards.

    I live in hope that goaltending will not be as much of an issue this year.

  • chezzychez

    From January on, Mikko’s numbers were definitely brought down by his back to backs. The stats almost always say that goalies don’t do well in back to backs so I still don’t get why we were doing it down the stretch.
    These are his numbers on the 2nd night of a B-B:
    .833% 7-4 loss
    .826% 5-2 loss
    .946% 4-2 win against Ottawa
    .824 6-3 loss
    .793% 6-2 loss
    Minus the one game against Ottawa, we got blown out when Mikko played in both games. Not to mention that by the end he was probably bagged in general because of the workload. He didn’t deserve the massive raise that was gifted to him but, he wasn’t the problem last year. Not like he had much help in front of him most of the year…

    • Kneedroptalbot

      If we had an adequate back up goaltender and Hitchcock didn’t use him like a whipped mule down (on back to back nights)on the backstretch, Kostkinen would have easily had a SV% in the 0.915 range. As it turned out he was our best opportunity to win.
      Kostkinen: won 25 games last season and was 4 games over .500. (52 games)
      Talbot: only won 10 games and was 5 games under .500. (28 games)

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Hitch rode Koskinen way too much and didnt give Talbot enough starts, I dont know what the rhyme or reason was, but the fact that koskinen was playing way too many games and looked flat out tired should have been an indication to start Talbot. Schwartz is also to be blame for this in that he seemed to be able to nothing to fix the holes in either of their games

        • HockeyKnowledge

          Koskinen just signed a 3 year deal and we had stolarz as our backup. Why wouldnt er ride koskinen? Forget the stats. What would it have done if he did have better stats but still lose?. He will be better next year with Mike smith. But i understood why they were riding him. Why play a guy that wont be in your organization no more.

  • ed from edmonton

    Kosky has backup goalie written all over him. It is not unusual for a career backup to get hot and play like a starter for a while. In Koski’s case it happened to be his first month. I think Holland thinks this as well and is budgeting for Smith to take over as starter. Koski contract might be the worst “unforced” contract ever.

    • Hemmercules

      Why is this comment getting so many trashes? Does anyone really think Koskinen is much more than a backup goalie? Just because he got paid starter money doesn’t make him a starter. The guy could barely crack the NHL so he went overseas, comes back to the NHL and has one solid month and suddenly he’s a starting goalie. Any GM in the league not named Chiarelli is paying Koskinen half what he makes. Maybe I’m wrong and he wins the starting position and the defense manages to stay healthy.

  • Kelly Youngblood

    He’ll be much better this coming year partly because the team is much better. If Holland pulls a 3C or PP quarterback out of his magic hat it’ll get even better again. Can’t wait for October.

  • blobbo

    Personally, I think there’s an up side to this guy. Season 2 will tell the story (probably). Regardless, they have to play him to see what he’s got. Even if Smith is red hot, you can’t invest in a guy who shops for retirement homes in his spare time.

  • OilCan2

    The trend I see here is poor use by the coaches. He was run hard, put away wet and run hard again. I really hope Tippett schedules his goalies for success this season. On another positive note the defense looks like there is more depth and skill available. Tippett also likes to see his forwards support the D Zone coverage.

  • YFC Prez

    “Win or lose, the book on the six-foot-seven Koskinen last season was that he too often made himself small and that high to the glove side was the place to shoot”

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why this was such an issue for both Talbot and Koskinen. I know theres a lot to goalie coaching that is far above my knowledge of the game . But you’d think it was a manageable problem.

  • GRC

    Enjoyed the article Robin.

    In terms of Koskinens latter half numbers I see 2 things in play. First as you mentioned the fatigue factor.Second I think the NHL shooters were starting to get a read on Koskinens tendencies. When you combine those 2 things I think that his tendencies (due to fatigue) become exaggerated.

    My thinking is that if Koskinen can play around 40 games we may see a little more consistency.
    At least I hope so.

  • billsbills

    Well by the looks of the win loss column, he seems to do better with more games per month. Maybe it comes down to having regular starts.

    We shall see, I hope he gets a chance to start at least 50 games. We are stuck with him unless he takes back off to the KHL. I don’t think even Holland could sell that contract to Calgary. 😉

  • DraiCup

    I like him as a person and I think he’s a great teammate but he is not the answer in goal for the long haul let alone a cup run. He should’ve been signed to a similar contract that Chiasson got this summer. 2 years and 2-3 mil. Koski has yet to prove that he’s worth more than that. Question is can he improve that much at his age?

  • Edsez

    I’m going to be positive about Koskinen and think that there will be less of a learning curve and more consistent results.

    it should be noted that we lost Klefbom for two months and Russell for one in the same game in December . The Oilers were in a playoff position at that time … losing two regulars led to a decline in consistency in overall team play period.

  • CofC

    I think we’re reading into this too much; the fact that we saw flashes of brilliance is encouraging; the fact that we also saw some inconsistency is not necessarily surprising given the multitude of factors alluded to in some of the comments. Going into this year, multiple factors could be and will hopefully be mitigated by a more sound and consistent defensive structure, as well as a full season and off season to better prepare for the quick and chaotic NA game. Finally, stability, mentor ship and load-sharing provided by Smith should better support Koskinen over the course of the season. I think we’ll see significantly greater consistency and much more of the brilliant stretches we saw last season. Go Oil.

  • GK1980

    Why are the Oilers so bad from Dec to Feb? same story most seasons. If they can get over the hump and actually have a successful Dec to Feb this team is on playoffs.

  • T Shuttz

    Yes the defence was terrible, but he was exposed too many times on the glove side top corner. He’s gotta improve that aspect of his game. Rink size has nothing to do with it, he will be fine. Maybe a few weeks training
    with Ranford would help out.

  • blobbo

    I’ll agree with one thing: It’s July and there isn’t much to talk about (especially after dumping Lucic onto Cowgary).

    I wouldn’t read too much into the interview. Smith has said he is coming into Edmonton as a team guy. Koskinen has had one full season in the NHL. Working with an old vet like Smith might be exactly what he needs.

    Koskinen’s contract kinda sucks but not much can be done about it. If properly managed in his second year, he might surprise some people.

  • Wiggleswag

    So the stat I will be watching for is a save % between .900 and .930 more that 15% of the time (7/55). That gives me something to look for in other goalies as well.

    • Ken Holland

      Nvm. 3 things.

      The defence was hurt last year, when healthy Koskinen looked good. He stole the job from Talbot during this stretch.

      The Oilers played him way too much last year. The stretch at the end was meaningless hocke, so it’s hard to gauge.

      His numbers on b2b games hurt his overall numbers. If we had a reliable backup he would have a season closer to .915.

      With Tippetts defensive team system and the competition for starts with Smith, I’m thinking this contract is going look like solid value. We can run the hot goalie, meaning neither will get tired. Last year we didnt have this option considering Talbot was never hot.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Ken Holland you are a smart man and a fine observer. Kostkinen was played way to much down the stretch as we only had Stolarz as a backup (who was 0-2). Kostinen easily would of had a .915 sv % with some relief in the last 20 games.