Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Mikko Koskinen deserves the starter’s reins

Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith performed well in a platoon capacity to start the season. Splitting games in both October and November, Koskinen and Smith were excellent early on. While Smith’s November wasn’t as strong, Koskinen continuing his strong play. Smith only had three games above a .870 save percentage in his seven appearances in November.

October November December
Mikko Koskinen 7GP – 0.922 8GP – 0.918 6GP – 0.910
Mike Smith  8GP – 0.919 7GP – 0.895 3GP – 0.820

Both Smith and Koskinen have taken a step back since a strong October. Koskinen maintained that into November as well, but is starting to slip a bit in December.

Smith hasn’t been as successful since October. It’s clear that Koskinen should get the bulk of the starts going forward as Smith transitions to more of a backup role. Smith’s play is costing the Oilers points and Dave Tippett can’t keep sending him out there for starts he doesn’t deserve.

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Tippett undoubtedly has a relationship with Smith dating back to their time together in Dallas and Arizona. Tippett is familiar with Smith, but he can’t let familiarity cloud his judgment. Smith’s November and December haven’t been NHL quality. Maybe a reduced workload helps Smith return to form.

Ken Holland’s Smith signing wasn’t without merit. Smith had been a quality goaltender for years prior to his rough season in Calgary last year. Whether he was showing signs of age, Smith is 37-years-old, or just a blip before he bounced back to quality, Smith was much better in the second half of the 2018-19 season, was a legitimate question. But Smith’s contract is only for one year and loaded with bonuses so the risk was minimal when they signed him.

Koskinen has his own concerns too. Koskinen started even hotter last season and faded hard as he played more throughout the season. An even split between him and Smith was supposed to alleviate concerns about fatigue but that is no longer in the cards with Smith’s poor play and the Oilers losing hold on their playoff spot.

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The Oilers don’t have any other option. Swapping Smith and Shane Starrett in Bakersfield would be an option had Starrett been healthy and not limited to just two games with the Condors.

Koskinen should play the bulk of the games going forward. Apart from the back-to-back against Pittsburgh and Montreal, Koskinen should start every remaining game in December.

Koskinen’s .910 save percentage in December is fairly average but average is good enough for now. There have been 47 goalies who have played in at least three games in December and Koskinen’s .910 save percentage was 26th before Tuesday’s games. Smith ranks 46th out of 47 goalies with his .820 save percentage, above only New Jersey’s Louie Domingue’s atrocious .812 save percentage. 

Tippett should even consider playing Koskinen every game in January as well. The Oilers have their five-day bye week in January leaving Koskinen time to rest and still play all the games. At the very least, Koskinen should start at least seven games in January.