It’s been a difficult season so far for Mikko Koskinen.
Mike Smith, who was supposed to be Koskinen’s tandem partner, is dealing with an injury and, according to Jason Gregor, isn’t close to a return. Edmonton’s third-string goalie, Anton Forsberg, was claimed on waivers right before the start of the season.
The Oilers claimed Troy Grosenick from the L.A. Kings to compensate for the loss of Forsberg but he had to quarantine for two weeks upon crossing the Canadian border. That resulted in Stuart Skinner, a prospect with only 47 games of AHL experience, as Koskinen’s backup.
As a result, Koskinen has played in all nine of Edmonton’s games and the fatigue factor has become very evident. The opening goal scored by the Maple Leafs on Thursday night clearly shows a goaltender who’s gassed…
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 29, 2021
Last season, Smith and Koskinen split starts right down the middle, and something similar was likely the plan for 2021. In Edmonton’s first nine games of 2019-20, Smith played five games and Koskinen played four. Smith posted a .930 save percentage, Koskinen had a .934 save percentage, and the team started 7-1-1.
The Oilers’ formula last season was pretty much allow three or fewer goals and the team will likely pull out the win. They went 34-8-6 in games in which Koskinen or Smith held the other team to three or fewer goals and won just three of the 23 games in which either goalie allowed more than three goals.
This season, Koskinen has played all nine of Edmonton’s games. He owns a .895 save percentage and has allowed more than three goals in five of those nine games. I wouldn’t say he’s the reason the team is 3-6-0 but he hasn’t been good either.
Seeing Koskinen struggle in this heavy workload situation isn’t shocking given what we’ve seen from him in the past. Back in 2018-19, after the team traded away Cam Talbot, Ken Hitchcock rode Koskinen pretty much exclusively. Between mid-February and the end of the season, Koskinen played 25 games over the course of 52 games and produced a .905 save percentage.
Koskinen has played 102 games with the Oilers now and the trends are clear. When he’s the main guy and he’s taking on a huge workload, he struggles. When he’s in a tandem with another goalie and he’s splitting the net, he plays very well.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday FRIDAY EDITION question. When does Koskinen get a break? How long can Dave Tippett keep riding him? Does the team need to go out and find another goalie?
As I said earlier, the challenge for Tippett is the fact that there hasn’t been a legitimate backup for Koskinen this year. Giving Skinner a start in the middle of this stretch to give Koskinen a breather probably would have been worthwhile, but I can sort of see why the team is trying to avoid tossing their young goalie prospect in the deep end.
Grosenick has finished his quarantine and joined the Oilers at practice on Friday. He has just two games of NHL experience, which came back in 2014-15 with the San Jose Sharks in which he stopped 55 of 58 shots. Grosenick has also produced very good numbers in the AHL.
The Oilers have a big game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night and then they get a break in their schedule as they face the Ottawa Senators in four of their next five games. That seems like an ideal time to give Koskinen some time off. But there are only so many games against the Sens on the schedule and the team will need to a find a solution to their goaltending situation so that Koskinen doesn’t get worn into the ground.
What say you, Nation? How long can Tippett keep riding Koskinen? Can Grosenick be a tandem goalie for Koskinen moving forward? Does the team need to go out and find somebody who can?
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