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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Hawks: Goalie Decisions

This has been an unusual series. No goalie has won a game with a .900 sv%. Usually a sub .900Sv% is a recipe for a loss, but not for the Oilers or Hawks and goaltending has not been the main reason a team has won or lost a game in my eyes.

Each team has scored 13 goals in three games. Corey Crawford has an .859sv% in his three starts. Mikko Koskinen has a .867% in his two starts, while Mike Smith had a .783sv% before he was pulled. Some will want to blame Smith for game one loss, but the team was equally bad.


The Blackhawks won game three 4-3, and they did so without shooting one puck into the net. Matthew Highmore had a nice deflection to tie the game, but the other three goals went in off of Jonathon Toews’ skate, after he fanned on his shot, while the other two went in off of two Oilers — Kris Russell’s leg and Ethan Bear’s stick.

Luck plays such a major factor in NHL hockey. It can be infuriating at times for players and fans, but it’s the one part of the game that will never go away. You can’t plan for it or defend it. You try to outwork it so when bad luck happens, you have a cushion.

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But now the Oilers face elimination, and these teams could play the deciding game of the series in a back-to-back situation.

1. We haven’t seen a game-seven in a BTB situation in the Western Conference since 2003 when the plucky Minnesota Wild did it twice. In the opening round, they trailed Colorado three games to two, but won game six at home and game seven in Colorado the next night. Manny Fernandez played started both games. He stopped 22 of 24 in game six (.917Sv%) and then 43 of 45 (.956) in game seven. He beat Patrick Roy in both games. Roy stopped 20 of 23 (.870) in game six and 27 of 30 (.900) in game seven.

The Wild faced the exact same scenario in the second round against Vancouver. They won game six at home and game seven in Vancouver. Dwayne Roloson started both games for the Wild and stopped 30 of 31 (.968) in game six and 24 of 26 (.923) in game seven. Canucks fans might still have nightmares about this series, as Dan Cloutier stopped 18 of 23 (.783) in game six and stopped a meagre 12 of 16 (.750) shots in game seven.

2. A game seven in a back-to-back situation has occurred three times in the Eastern Conference since 2003. But no team won both games.

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The Maple Leafs won game six in 2003, but lost in Philly in game seven. Ed Belfour played both games for Toronto and Roman Cechmanek played for the Flyers.

Washington won game six on the road in 2008, but lost at home in game seven to Philly with Martin Biron in goal for both against Cristobal Huet.

Philly won game six at home in 2014, but lost game seven in New York to the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist started both for the Rangers, but he was pulled after 40 minutes in game one down 4-0. Steve Mason was in goal for both games for the Flyers and posted a .944Sv% in game six and a .936Sv% in game seven, but lost 2-1.

3. Neither Mike Smith nor Mikko Koskinen started on back-to-back nights this year. Koskinen did start back-to-back four times last season. Here are his numbers in those games.

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Game One                                              Game Two
Loss- 3G on 27shots (.889Sv%)          L- 4G on 23 shots (.826). This was his third start in four nights.
L-4G on 16 shots (.750)                       W- 2G on 37 shots (.946). His third game in four nights.
W- 2G on 30 shots (.933)                    L- 6G on 34 shots (.824)
W 2G on 30 shots (.933)                      L- 6G on 39 shots (.793). His third game in four nights.

4. Smith hasn’t started on back-to-back nights since March 2018. He lost both games with a .871 and .893Sv%. His previous two BTB starts saw him struggle in the first game, but rebound in second posting wins and a .929 and .924SV% in those two games in October of 2017 and December of 2016.

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5 The past has little bearing on what will occur, but it is interesting to see the numbers. How much will fatigue be a factor? Does it matter at all considering Corey Crawford will be in the exact same situation as the Hawks and there is no travel because of the bubble. Or does Dave Tippett want to use both goalies so he potentially has a rest advantage? Koskinen didn’t play poorly last night, as none of the Hawks goals were actually shot into the net. But if people were asking Smith to make a big save on a goal in game one, shouldn’t you ask for the same from Koskinen? I didn’t see Smith having much of a chance on any of the four goals after his mishandling on the first goal, just like I don’t think Koskinen was at fault on any of the four goals last night. However, none of the numbers from the past week say Smith or Koskinen is the clear choice.

6. Here is a good thread outlining how Koskinen hasn’t been clearly better than Smith these playoffs. I can see arguments for Tippett to go with either goalie, but the challenge is I’m not certain any of us can say with confidence which goalie would play well. Both have shown they can be really good, average or struggle.

7. Nowadays most NHL teams shy away from playing their goalies in back-to-back games. Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky did it four times this season. Price was 1-3 in the first game and 0-2-2 in the second, while Bobrovsky went 4-0 in the first game and 2-1-1 in the second. Jacob Markstrom did it twice with the Canucks. He lost both games the first set, and then won both in the second set. McKenzie Blackwood did it twice for the Devils and he was 2-0 in the first game and 0-1-1 in the second.

Among the other top-20 goalies in games started, Marc Andre Fleury, Jordan Bennington, Connor Hellebuyck and Martin Jones each did it once this season.

8. Tyler Ennis left Wednesday’s game and will not play tonight. I’m told he has a fractured lower leg. Andreas Athanasiou took his spot in the third period alongside Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. Will he start there and who will draw in for Ennis? I’d move James Neal into the top six and I’d play Gaetan Haas. He is fast, smart, and can play on the PK and 2nd PP unit. You could play him at centre and move Jujhar Khaira or Riley Sheahan to left wing. I expect Haas to play.

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9. Edmonton needs more desperation in their game. In game one, they were sloppy throughout and in game three I felt they were too cautious. You need to attack the Blackhawks. They are not a great defending team. Penalties played a major factor in not having much flow or rhythm in the second period, but for the first 18 minutes I felt Edmonton didn’t have the intensity needed to win in the playoffs. The series favours Chicago when it lacks emotion. Oilers need to find some.

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10. The Oilers have seven goals at 5×5 through three games. McDavid’s line has two, Jujhar Khaira’s line has two and Leon Draisaitl’s has three. McDavid was on the ice for one of Draisaitl’s goals, but they need Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to score a goal at 5×5. In 16 playoff games, he only has one goal and it was on the powerplay. He is getting shots, but he needs to finish.

11. I was a bit surprised Kassian and Sheahan got a shift late in the third after not playing for so long. Kassian had barely played all game due to all the penalties. In the final two periods he had four shifts. His first was at 24:15-24:55, then at 31:13-31:50 of the second period, then 42:34-43:32 and finally at 53:52-54:21 when the Hawks tied the game. He was sitting for 10 minutes twice. With only five minutes left I wondered why he and Sheahan got a shift. Sheahan only had two shift of 13 seconds in between the 10 minutes Kassian sat, and I wonder if that impacted why he couldn’t handle the puck on the boards on the tying goal and why Kassian didn’t get in the shooting lane.

12. Tonight is the first real “must-win” situation for the Oilers this season. If they win the series they need to win both games. They played eight back-to-back situations this season. They were 4-3-1 in the first game, and 7-1 in the second game. Of course the first game never had the same importance as tonight, but the Oilers have shown an ability to bounce back after a loss this season. They were 20-13 after a loss in the regular season and are 1-0 in the playoffs.

13. I believe this is a massive game, and series, for the business side of the Oilers. Many of their regular season games weren’t sold out. Fans were less willing to pay for tickets, even though the Oilers were competitive. Part of that was finances, but also I think frustration from so many years without the playoffs played a factor. A qualifying round exit to the 12th ranked Blackhawks, combined with COVID and an uncertain financial future could have a massive impact on ticket sales. Currently, the season ticket renewal deadline was moved back to September 1st. It would be a bitter pill for Oilers fans to host the Stanley Cup Playoffs and not have their team in them. I’m sure the players desperately want to win, but the business side of the Oilers is likely more nervous than any fan right now. There is a lot riding on this weekend.

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