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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 3.0: Mikko Returns (5pm MT, SN Oilers)

Mikko Koskinen made his NHL debut on February 8th, 2011, at Nassau County Coliseum against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now eight years and eight months later — to the day — Koskinen makes his season debut with the Edmonton Oilers.

Koskinen started 51 games last season. He was solid in the first 25 and then signed a three-year extension with a $4.5 million AAV in late January, and with that deal came much higher expectations. He faltered down the stretch, starting 26 of the final 32 games and posting a .902sv%. Now he finds himself in a battle with Mike Smith for starts, and after an uninspiring preseason, Koskinen gets his first chance in a meaningful game to impress new head coach Dave Tippett.

The contract has placed unrealistic expectations on the 6’7″ product from Vantaa, a city in Finland with a population of 229,000.  He only has 55 starts on his NHL resume. It was premature of Peter Chiarelli and Oilers management to pay him that much. But they did, and now it is up to him to play well.

Even with a $4.5 million AAV, Koskinen is only the 20th highest paid goalie. He doesn’t have to be great to play up to his contract. He simply needs to be steady and play like he did in his first 25 starts last season when he posted a .910sv%.

When he plays well there is little movement in his game. He tracks the puck well and is set and square to the shooter. But when he isn’t technically sound, he gets exposed, especially his glove hand.

His glove hand has become a lightning rod for debate. If he allows a goal glove side it becomes the story line. That is his reality now, and the only way to silence his critics is to play well.

How well can he play? That is the (4.5 AAV) million dollar question.

I think a realistic number for him would be a .912sv%. If he can start 35-40 games and finish with a .912sv% that would be a successful season in my books. He is 31 years of age. He isn’t suddenly going to become Frank Robinson, Roberto Alomar or Ozzie Smith and become a gold glover. He won’t suddenly possess a stellar glove like Grant Fuhr, Henrik Lundqvist or Jonathan Quick.

It’s a weakness, he just needs to overcome it. Just like players who aren’t great skaters find ways to be productive, Koskinen will need to ensure his technique is sound, to make sure he can get across quickly and be set and square to the shooter. If he is, then his odds of making saves increase.

Outside of his technical game, I’m curious to see how he responds to the challenge of matching Smith’s play.

Koskinen was a major unknown last season. He watched Cam Talbot start the first eight games of the season and go 4-3-1 with a .901sv% and a 2.50 GAA. When Koskinen finally got a start on October 27th in Nashville, he got a win. Then he shutout Chicago five days later and defeated Detroit two days later. He was 3-0 with a .935sv% and a 2.00 GAA. He earned more starts, and he will have to do the same starting tonight.

The main difference this October to last is that now he is expected to play well. The organization needs him to play well and try to make the contract look acceptable. I don’t blame Koskinen for signing the contract — everyone would have if they were in his situation. But the contract is now his cross to bear, and he needs a good performance to earn the trust of Tippett.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian
Jurco-RNH-Neal
Nygard-Haas-Granlund
Khaira-Sheahan-P.Russell

Nurse-Bear
Klefbom-Persson
Russell-Benning

Koskinen

Tomas Jurco gets a bump to the second line, while Tippett moves Nygard with Haas. I like both moves. Riley Sheahan makes his season debut in place of Colby Cave. The Oilers placed Josh Archibald on retroactive IR, back to last Thursday, and activated Sheahan. Josh Archibald is eligible to come off IR in time for Thursday’s game in New Jersey. When he does, the Oilers will have to make a roster move, unless a forward gets injured.

Alex Chiasson is still not feeling well enough to play.

Islanders

Lee-Barzal-Eberle
Bailey-Nelson-Dal Colle
Beauvillier-Brassard-Komarov
Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

Pelech-Pulock
Toews-Mayfield
Leddy-Dobson

Varlamov

Noah Dobson, the 12th pick in 2018, will make his NHL debut tonight. Barry Trotz rolls four lines and all three D pairs. Through two games Matt Barzal is the only forward averaging more than 17 minutes/game and he’s only at 17:06, while Matt Martin (11:58/game) is the only forward averaging less than 13 minutes a night.

The defence is similar, ranging from Devan Toews (18:27/game) to Nick Leddy (21:55). Veteran Johnny Boychuk is out tonight for Dobson, and I’m curious to see if Dobson will play similar minutes to Boychuk’s 19:53/game.

QUICK HITS…

The quirky stat of the day: In 40 road games against the Islanders the Oilers have as many wins as ties. They’ve only won nine times in 40 games, and have nine ties. In fact six of their first 12 visits to Long Island resulted in ties.

Since 2000, the Oilers have only won twice on the road, and both of those came at Barclay Centre in Brooklyn on November 5th, 2016, and November 7th, 2017. One victory was in OT and the other was in a shootout. The last regulation road win against the Islanders came on December 14th, 1999, when Bill Guerin scored a goal and added an assist. Funny enough, both Islanders goals were scored by former Oilers Mariusz Czerkawski and Mats Lindgren.

During Saturday’s broadcast Brian Burke made a comment about how Mike Smith’s puck handling will lower the amount of hits Oilers D-men will take. Kent Wilson wrote an article last year about this exact topic. The benefits might not be as big as suggested.

According to our friends at OddsShark, the total has gone OVER in 4 of Edmonton’s last 5 games played on a Tuesday.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers aren’t expected to win, but they pull off a 4-2 upset.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: James Neal scores. He has 12 goals against the Islanders, and he has three points in three career games on October 8th, and his team has won all three.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers blueline has a combined one career goal against the Islanders, off the stick of Oscar Klefbom. They get their second tonight off the stick of Ethan Bear.

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