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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: Big questions in the crease

Welcome to the day after where we dive into what’s happening with the Oilers the day after a game. 

The Edmonton Oilers have some major questions in net. This isn’t a new story, but it’s one that’s coming more and more to the forefront with every game that passes.

Last night some of those issues were on full display. Mikko Koskinen fought the puck hard goals he probably wished to have back. He’s been fighting hard to keep the Oilers in games this year, but after losing 6-4 against the Flames last night, he now holds an 889 save percentage, and a 3.55 goals against average.

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Dave Tippett, however, was hesitant to throw his goaltender under the bus after Koskinen saved only 78.6 percent of the shots he faced.

In fact, Tippett was asked twice about not just about Koskinen’s game in and of itself, but how the team cuts its goals against.

“We’re looking for some better play in front of the goalie, and the goalie could stop a couple more,” he said the first time, coming with a near word for word response the second time.

The truth is that as much as Koskinen struggled last night, that’s to be expected once in a while. He is, after all, not a “true starting goaltender” in the sense that he can be a workhorse for the Edmonton Oilers like Connor Hellebuyck is for the Winnipeg Jets, or Andrei Vasilesky is for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Koskinen is the type of goaltender, for better or worse, that needs someone there right behind him to take the load off his shoulders. Edmonton, as they came into the game last night, haven’t had that this season.

Only one other goaltender has seen action this year, a rookie Stuart Skinner who posted a .868 save percentage in an 8-5 win against the Ottawa Senators. The Oilers, of course, haven’t seen what Mike Smith has been able to do but after an up and down season last year and only having played 12 games in the last calendar year one has to ask how much he has in the tank. He is after all turning 39 at the end of March.

The Oilers signed Anton Forsberg to be the third goalie this past offseason, but they lost him on waivers instead of holding onto a third goaltender. They then claimed Troy Grosenick, but he was lost after being waived Friday. A 31-year-old veteran of 254 AHL games and two NHL games, he is far from a perfect option as a third goalie but likely could’ve filled the void the rest of the year. Instead, they placed him on waivers and lost him.

That move was a bit of a headscratcher given the fact Skinner is likely best kept as a player with the Bakersfield Condors and truth be told, I’d imagine the organization would like him there, too. He’d have the chance to develop and continue to grow his game, something he clearly is still in need of doing.

This doesn’t all fall on Koskinen’s shoulders. The Oilers players on a nightly basis need to do a much better job in front of him. Too many mistakes, too many missed assignments, and too many times they’ve been caught flat-footed.

But management undoubtedly needs to front some of the blame, too.

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Ken Holland and co. should’ve been able to guess someone was going to claim Anton Forsberg on waivers earlier this year, especially a Carolina Hurricanes organization down a goalie that’s familiar with the player.

He should’ve figured the LA Kings, who have no goaltending depth in their organization, would’ve like to have brought back Grosenick.

Now, instead, the Oilers are stuck in a tough situation. Sure, Skinner could stick around Edmonton, maybe squeak in another start or two this season, but he would miss out on a chance to be a workhorse for the Condors.

What happens if Smith comes in and struggles, which he likely will, given his lack of games played and the fact that NHL games have been going on for a month?

Or knock on wood, what happens if something horrible happens like Koskinen goes down with an injury for an extended period of time?

Backhanders…

  • Jujhar Khaira had a great night for the Oilers. He scored in the first period, and despite only playing 6:24 at 5×5, he posted an 80 CF% and an 89.05 xGF%. It all really came in the first, but he looked solid all night. He needed this kind of performance.
  • I think the Oilers really miss Ethan Bear out there. He’s the best partner for Darnell Nurse and while Nurse has been playing some good hockey this year even without Bear, he’s a player who does all the right things. He was placed on the IR today, but is able to come back Monday against Ottawa as the placement was retroactive to last week.
  • On another note, who does everybody like in the Super Bowl today? I’ve faded the Bucs hard this season and it’s come back to bite me. Give me Bucs +3.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]

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