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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW(SE): Stopping the puck

A key reason for Edmonton’s hot start this season was strong goaltending from the unpredictable duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.

Koskinen showed some flashes of brilliance early on last year and earned himself a contract extension half-way through the season despite not having much of a track record of success in the league. Without much salary cap space to work with, Ken Holland took a flyer on Mike Smith, a veteran goalie familiar with new head coach Dave Tippett. The hope for Smith was that he could have a bounceback year and that he could help push Koskinen into becoming a legitimate 1A goalie in the NHL.

It worked early on. Both Smith and Koskinen were excellent in the early going, splitting the net and giving the Oilers a chance to win pretty much every night. But goalies giveth and goalies taketh away.

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After Saturday night’s loss to Toronto, the Oilers rank 26th in the league in goals against. This is despite being a middling team in terms of allowing shots and scoring chances at even strength and boasting a penalty kill efficiency above league average. It mostly comes down to goaltending. The Oilers duo of Koskinen and Smith has a .901 save percentage, which ranks 21st in the league.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SUNDAY EDITION question. How would you solve Edmonton’s goaltending woes? Is it as simple as giving Koskinen more starts than Smith? Or do you continue to ride both goalies back-and-forth in hopes that they both find their stride as they had earlier in the season?

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Smith has taken most of the heat as the goalie responsible for Edmonton’s struggles. In his first nine starts, Smith posted a ridiculously-good .931 save percentage. We all knew he wasn’t going to keep that up, but Smith’s fall from grace has been massive. In his last nine starts, he has a .854 save percentage, and, unsurprisingly, the Oilers have won only two of those games.

The solution to this seems simple. Just play Smith less and Koskinen more. But is it that easy?

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Koskinen has been all over the grid as of late too, bouncing back and forth from good to bad start without any consistency. He was fine against Toronto, stopping 38 of 31 shots, but he had a really rough outing at home against Carolina before that, allowing six goals on 32 shots, including an ugly one from centre ice. He had a couple of great starts against Los Angeles and Vancouver but wedged a poor start against Ottawa right in the middle.

All told, Koskinen has a .901 save percentage in his last 10 starts, which is a far cry from the .928 save percentage he had in his first 10 starts of the season.

I don’t think this issue is as easy as simply throwing Koskinen into the net a bunch more and leaving Smith on the bench. Koskinen has also been mediocre as of late and most of his struggles last season came when he started to see more playing time. Koskinen was at his best early on in 2018-19 before he took the starting gig from Cam Talbot and when the two were splitting the net. After he started to play with more frequency, his game started to get worse.

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What say you, Nation? How do you fix Edmonton’s goaltending issue? Do you ride it out and continue to go back-and-forth with the two goalies as they were doing when things were working? Or does Koskinen need to start seeing more playing time while Smith sits on the bench? 

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