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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – What to do about the goalie problem?

Happy Monday, fair citizens, and welcome to a brand new Mailbag where I’ve taken your questions about our dear hockey squadron, emailed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their answers right here on this very website for your education and enjoyment. This week, we’re looking at first impressions for the new guys, the goaltending problem, Jesse Puljujarvi, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Mar 9, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) tries to knock the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Ryan asks – With no interdivisional games until the semi-finals of the playoffs, do you think different levels of competitiveness will develop in each division?  Do you think some teams will get lit up in the semi’s when they come up against a team used to the stiffer competition?  How do you think the Canadian Division will fare?

Jason Gregor:

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I don’t think any division is clearly weaker to the point that they will get crushed in semi-finals. Impossible to say how Canadian division will do in the playoffs that is five months away. I don’t know who will win. Which team will be healthy or playing well at the time? And will a team make trades by then? It would only be a guess at this point. Whichever four teams are in the semi-finals will have earned it.

Robin Brownlee:

First, we’re three games in. Second, I’m not sure I see a division so loaded from top to bottom at this point that it will qualify as having the stiffer competition by a significant margin over other divisions. The North Division looks like it will be as competitive as a lot of people thought going in — not a huge gap between the best and worst. Even Ottawa looks pretty good so far.

Cam Lewis:

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This is a good question but it’s very difficult to answer this early in the season. I think the East Division (which features playoff-calibre teams in Washington, Philly, Pittsburgh, Boston, the Rangers, and the Islanders) is definitely the strongest of the four, but maybe getting beaten down by a difficult season with zero room for error will burn a team out.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Honestly, I can’t see a team that’s going to get crunched in the semi-finals just because their division was easier than the rest. If anything, they might be more rested if they didn’t have to battle as hard to get through the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. I do think that whoever gets out of the Canadian Division will have a great chance of getting to the Cup Finals though. I am also very excited by the idea of the NHL re-tiering for the semi-finals. The Oilers could potentially play a team like Pittsburgh before the Stanley Cup Finals.

Baggedmilk:

Honestly, dude, I have no idea nor am I think that far ahead since we’re only three games into the season and the Oilers are 1-2. Ask me again if they win tonight.

Jan 16, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Tyson Barrie (22) blocks a shot by Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin (92) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2) Tina asks – I know the sample size is small, but what are everyone’s first impressions on the new guys?

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Jason Gregor:

Turris looked better in game two, which is understandable. He’s been good on the PK. He’s played the most min of any forward and has fit in well in that unit. The issue is the third line has been crushed at 5×5. He needs to improve there.

Barrie has been okay. Looking more comfortable on the PP. Give him a few more games and we will see how they adjust to having a right shot up top. He and Koekkoek have been solid as a D pair.

Kahun has been okay. He hasn’t excited me as much as many say. Draisaitl and Yamamoto have been much more dangerous as a duo than Draisaitl. He clearly sees the game well. He makes smart plays when he has the puck, but he doesn’t have the ability to go get it like Yamamoto.

Robin Brownlee:

Barrie is the only new player who stands out for me at this early point. Sneaky good defensively with his stick. Slater Koekkoek has been solid. Turris and Kahun seem to be feeling their way into things in their different roles. Kahun has had some chances.

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Cam Lewis:

Kahun has fit in seamlessly on the Draisaitl line, which is great. Koekkoek is quietly solid, which is all you really need from a bottom-pairing defenceman. Tyson Barrie has been fine, I don’t think he’s as bad defensively as many have suggested. Kyle Turris has been a bit disappointing so far but he’s learning how to pivot a line with a revolving door of new linemates, so I’ll withhold judgement for a bit.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Very small sample size but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from all of them. Tyson Barrie and Dominik Kahun have made the biggest impacts early on but Kyle Turris has been good too, I really like what I’ve seen from him on the PK. Slate Koekoek has probably been the biggest surprise though. I didn’t expect him to be their fourth-best defenseman through two games.

Baggedmilk:

Koekkoek and Barrie have been the most noticeable to me so far, and I’m into what both of them are bringing. Kahun and Draisaitl seem to have some chemistry already and I’m hoping that will continue to grow as the get more at-bats in. Turris has been decent too, and I’m happy that he’s getting a little bit of PK time as well since the team will need him to be able to do it.

Jan 13, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Vancouver Canucks defensemen Alex Edler (23) battle for a loose puck during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Stephen asks – Even though it’s only been a few games, Jesse Puljujarvi looks like a different player than the one that went back to Finland. Is anyone else seeing the same thing or is it too soon to tell?

Jason Gregor:

He is more mature. He is ready for the NHL unlike the first few years when he was rushed. His play should remind everyone why you don’t rush players. The one issue for me is he still mishandles the puck. Maybe it was excitement or nerves, as he has put himself in good positions, and he has the puck a lot, but he has fanned on a few shots and had a breakaway pass go right off his stick. If he can handle the puck more consistently he will be very dangerous. He looks more comfortable each shift and I think he will have a good year.

Robin Brownlee:

He’s more physically engaged and is playing harder on the puck. I’ve liked him, even without any production to show for the chances he’s had. Jesse is a big, strong player now and he’s using those attributes.

Cam Lewis:

He looks much, much more confident. I think it’s a combination of him growing and maturing in Finland but also now playing for a coach in Dave Tippett who’s better for young players than either of the coaches he had in his first go-around. I’m excited for what Puljujarvi will do this year.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

It’s very early in the year, but I loved what I saw from Puljujarvi in the second game of the season. He was buzzing in the offensive zone, using his size to create scoring chances, and he even looked good in his short time in front of the net on the powerplay. I think Tippett should keep giving him time with that top powerplay unit because there could be a really good fit there.

Baggedmilk:

To me, Puljujarvi looks bigger, stronger, and more confident in himself, and that’s really nice to see. I’ve got a lot of time for the kid.

4) Davis asks – What is everyone’s best guess as to what Ken Holland will do now that Mike Smith will be out for the next few weeks? Does he go shopping for a goaltender or would they actually try Stuart Skinner out in a backup role?

Jason Gregor:

Not many teams have a goalie to trade. He could get someone with a bit more experience than Skinner, but I don’t see him getting a legit NHL goalie. There aren’t many available right now. The good news is that goalies can be very unpredictable. Maybe Skinner shocks us all and is ready. It is unlikely, but you never know. Or a player like Hutchinson plays well for a few games. Koskinen is the main starter. Many wanted that and now it is here. He will get a lot of games over the next three weeks.

Robin Brownlee:

Holland claimed Troy Grosenick on waivers. I don’t see him as any kind of real option as a back-up long term — he’s a career minor leaguer with just two NHL games on his resume — but he’ll be fine as the third option for now.

Cam Lewis:

I hope they claim Aaron Dell. He’s an NHL-calibre back-up, and might actually be better than Mike Smith, beyond being an obvious upgrade on Stuart Skinner in the third-string role.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Well, it looks like Troy Grosenick is going to be the bandaid solution. I wouldn’t have minded if they just gave Stuart Skinner a few starts but I think it’ll be hard for Holland to go get a more prominent backup because then you’ll have to put either him or Mike Smith on the waiver wire once Smith is healthy. I’m not saying I wouldn’t put Smith on waivers, but I can’t imagine that Ken Holland would.

Baggedmilk:

I know this question was submitted on Thursday, but so far, Holland has already claimed Grosenick and I’ll be waiting to see if he does the same with Aaron Dell. Dell hit the waiver wire on Sunday morning and it seems like that would be a decent claim as a stopgap option if they can make it work.

Jan 14, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a second period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. `

5) @ClassicDavisNWT asks – Once we get to game 25-30 do you think playing the same teams over and over will have an effect on McDavid’s ability to surprise with speed and maneuver around defence as he did with the Canucks?

Jason Gregor:

It wasn’t a surprise. You think they didn’t know he is the fastest player in the league. You can’t react to it in a split second. His PP goal when he flies down the left side, and then stops/cuts inside on a dime is extremely hard to defend. The players are all aware of him. There are no surprises. They will try to limit his time and space at 5×5, but this is his 6th season in the NHL, he didn’t surprise the Canucks. He simply is that good and hard to defend.

Robin Brownlee:

Connor McDavid isn’t a surprise to anybody. Knowing what he’s going to do and finding a way to prevent it are two distinctly different matters. Given his hockey IQ, seeing the same opponents more often is likely an advantage to him — he gets more of a look at what opponents can and can’t do.

Cam Lewis:

No. There’s no way to defend McDavid, even if you know what’s coming. He’s really that good.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

You can play him perfectly and he’ll still beat you, so no. I do not think teams are going to figure out how to stop him. He’s just too creative and unpredictable. Take that goal against Vancouver for example. Most of the time, McDavid would just try to blow past the defenseman and drive to the net. Instead, he slammed on the breaks and ripped one top shelf. He can beat you so many different ways, that it’s near impossible to stop him.

Baggedmilk:

No one can stop Connor on a nightly basis and I don’t care who you are. Sure, some nights he may be contained or maybe even quiet, but that’s something that will never last for long.

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