Need a Save There

As the last line of defence, goaltenders often get too much praise after a win and too much criticism after a loss. That’s the nature of the position. So it was yet again in regard to Mikko Koskinen after the Edmonton Oilers dropped a 6-4 decision to the Calgary Flames Saturday night.

I found myself thinking and Tweeting about that more than once last night as Koskinen fished another puck out of the twine. “Need a save there.” Reaction to that assessment, like the ongoing debate about Edmonton’s inability to keep pucks out of the net, has been mixed. The spectrum runs from “damn right” to “you’re nuts, what about the defence on that play?” Fair enough. Things are seldom as black and white as they are made out to be in 240 characters.

Let’s agree there’s plenty of blame to go around when you look at the 49 goals the Oilers have allowed through 13 games, which is third-worst in the league at an average of 3.77 per game. Let’s agree Koskinen’s .889 save-percentage isn’t all on him. There have been defensive lapses and giveaways, too many clear-cut chances. And let’s also agree that the numbers, especially fundamental ones like save percentage, don’t tell the whole story. Sure.

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The bottom line for me, and likely for many of you, is that I’ve found myself coming back to that “need a save there” too often through 13 games, as was the case last night. The way I see it, Koskinen – all factors considered and allowing for him being forced into 12 starts by an injury to Mike Smith and the team’s third-goaltender carousel – hasn’t been good enough. By the numbers and by eye, Koskinen has to get better.


Feb 6, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) is scored on by Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund (not pictured) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome.

With Smith out and raw rookie Stuart Skinner the only option to this point because of waiver/taxi squad rules/COVID-19 protocols, coach Dave Tippett hasn’t been dealt very good cards. Koskinen was going to be Tippett’s No. 1 coming into the season, but not to the point of playing 12 of 13 games. We’ve seen the big Finn wilt under a too-heavy workload before, so the coach wasn’t about to throw him under the bus. That said, Tippett didn’t let Koskinen off the hook in the post-game availability either.

“We’re looking for some better play in front of the goalie and the goalie could stop a couple more,” Tippett said. “It’s a combination of both. You’ve got to play better in front of the goalie and the goalie has to make a few more saves.”

Elias Lindholm beat Koskinen with the first shot of the game to make it 1-0 just 56 seconds in. Ahead 2-1 through so minutes, the Oilers have up two goals in a span of 1:54 in the second period – the eighth time this season they’ve allowed two goals in under two minutes – to trail 3-2. The 2-2 goal by Milan Lucic is here. The 3-3 goal by Mikael Backlund is here. Koskinen needs to squeeze that shot by Backlund, no? Same thing on the 4-3 power-play shortside goal by Dillon Dube. The Oilers need a save there.

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“There’s a number of things,” Tippett said when asked about the propensity to give up quick back-to-back goals this season. “You need some saves. You need to be smart with the puck. There’s been a number of things that come to mind that we have to improve. There’s turning points in a game that come in and you have to recognize those. When you don’t, bad things happen.”

On the 5-3 goal and eventual winner by Johnny Gaudreau, the Calgary rush started with Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse caught deep in Calgary’s end after Barrie’s backhand pass attempt into the slot was picked off by Mark Giordano. Gaudreau buried the rubber top shelf on the glove side on the ensuing rush. It was a great shot. Koskinen had almost no chance.


Jan 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) makes a glove save on a shot from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) in the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Again, many factors can play into goals scored and goals allowed, and you can have a mixed bag in the very same game. I’ve seen Koskinen put together some exceptional stretches when too often left to his own devices during games this season, only to undo it with a “need a save there” moment. That doesn’t mean I think he’s brutal. It doesn’t mean nobody else made a mistake. It means what it says: “need a save there.”

Until the Oilers start getting that, be it from Koskinen or Smith or whoever ends up in the blue paint, they aren’t going to win more games than they lose. The Oilers are seventh in the NHL in goals scored per game at 3.54, but even with a pretty good attack and a power play that’s been better of late, they cannot simply rely on outscoring their inability to keep pucks out of the net. They need better defence and better goaltending. They “need a save there.”

Previously by Robin Brownlee