Mike Smith will make his first NHL regular season start since March 11th, 2020, tonight in Ottawa. He did play 26 minutes of game one of the play-in round against Chicago, but allowed five goals and didn’t play again. He went to B.C. to work with trainer Adam Francilia in hopes it would help his game.
Francilia is more of a trainer than a technical goalie coach.
“I’m familiar with what Adam does and I think it will do good things for Smitty,” said Oilers goale coach Dustin Schwartz when I asked him about Francilia during the off-season. “His (Francilia) focus on core strength, the extremities of the body and the flexibility in those parts, the core strength for balance…all those things will be beneficial to allowing Smitty to maybe adjust his posture and stance just to keep him a bit more mobile, and like you said, off his stomach a bit. I know goalies Adam has worked with in the past, and I’ve coached them and they all speak very highly of Adam.”
Tonight we will see if the training helped Smith. He suffered an odd, undisclosed injury during the warmup on opening night against Vancouver. We didn’t see him skate with the team again until last week, however, he has been on the ice on his own. “My injury only affected me in certain movements,” said Smith this morning. “I was able to do a lot of things. I feel I’m in a good spot mentally and physically.”
The Oilers will need him to play for two reasons. One: they need to win, but if he plays well then Mikko Koskinen will get more time working with Schwartz to tighten up the technical deficiencies we’ve seen creep into his game lately. When Koskinen is struggling, too many pucks go “right through him,” and we saw a few of those on Saturday. Koskinen isn’t an elite NHL goalie, but when he isn’t overplayed he can be good. I still have concerns with him allowing a weak goal too often, but I’m not sure that will ever change. It has been a part of his arsenal since he came to Edmonton.
Koskinen is best when he isn’t overused. If you want him to have success you need a goalie who can play at least 40% of the games, or maybe even 50%. I think it is fair to say Koskinen is best when he has enough practice time to stay sharp. The moment he has to play too many games, and limited practice time, we start to see pucks find holes between his arms, chest and legs.
Smith’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Oilers. They don’t need great goaltending to win, but they need consistency from their goalies and they will need that from Smith tonight. The Senators aren’t a push over despite their 2-9-1 record. They beat the first place Canadiens 2-1 on Thursday, and then lost 3-2 to them on Saturday. The Senators have more confidence than they did when they played in Edmonton last week, mainly because their goalies have made some saves the past two games. They still give up a lot, but Matt Murray stopped 66 of 70 shots in the two game-set against Montreal and gave Ottawa a chance to win both nights.
Murray had an awful .849sv% in his first six starts with the Senators, but he did spend all off-season working on a new stance and approach. You wonder if he needed some games to get comfortable, or if the Montreal games were simply two good games. We’ll find out tonight as the Oilers should generate some quality scoring chances based on how Ottawa has played all season.
Smith will need to play as well as Murray, and more importantly, the Oilers defensive zone coverage, needs to be as good as it was last Tuesday against the Senators when they only allowed 25 shots, and most of those came when they were leading 4-1.
RNH – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Neal – Turris – Kassian
Ennis – Khaira – Archibald
Nurse – Barrie
Lagesson – Larsson
K. Russell – Bouchard
**Edit…Ennis is in and Koekkoek is out.**
We know Smith is starting and the top-two lines won’t change, but Tippett wouldn’t divulge his lineup. We might see 11 forwards and seven D again, as Tippett said he wants penalty killers dressed because Barrie and Bouchard aren’t on those units. The issue with that is Kris Russell (1-5) and Slater Koekkoek (3-9) have been outscored significantly at 5×5. Tippett mentioned he tried Jones on the PK, but it didn’t go great. Fair, but if the PK guys are getting crushed at 5×5 is that better?
Gaetan Haas was placed on the IR and Tyler Ennis was activated, and I’d expect he faces his former team tonight. Will he draw in and have a D-man come out, or will Tippett take out a winger for Ennis?
Tippett had a quote about Zack Kassian today that got my attention. “We’d like him to get more engaged in games…that’s kind of an understatement.”
Kassian hasn’t been as engaged as he needs to be. He isn’t involved in scrums or on-ice conversations, which usually stem from him being physical. He hasn’t drawn any penalties, and he only has two minors. Of course you don’t want him taking penalties, but when he is engaged he will get coincidental roughing calls or he will get a roughing or charging penalty. I expect physical players to take a few penalties. It happens, because they are playing on the edge, and sometimes they cross the line. I see a difference between an aggressive penalty and a needless or selfish one. You don’t want either, but you can accept the former.
Tkachuk – Norris – Dadonov
Paul – White – Batherson
Stutzle – Tierney – Brown
Galchenyuk – Anisimov – Watson
Chabot – Zaitsev
Brannstrom – Gudbranson
Reilly – Zub
The Sens played much better in their two games against Montreal, and could look a lot different than the team who allowed 12 goals in two games against Edmonton last week. Much of that was due to shoddy goaltending as well. The Oilers top-two lines should generate a lot of quality chances tonight if they play to their capabilities.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Ottawa will look to build off the last six periods when they host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
As the Senators found out the hard way last week, this Edmonton team can make you look pretty silly if you’re not ready to go from the moment the puck is dropped. Ottawa gave up a ridiculous eight goals in the first period of those two games last week so it’s safe to say that a better start is key for the Senators in this one.
The Senators made a couple roster moves over the weekend. Both Filip Chlapik and Matthew Peca were assigned to the American Hockey League while Logan Brown was recalled and placed on the taxi squad.
Brown was skating on what looked like the fifth line at practice yesterday so it’s not entirely clear whether he’ll step right into the lineup. Meanwhile Christian Wolanin was back at practice on Sunday although according to the Head Coach, he hasn’t been cleared to play.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers get back to .500 for the third time this season with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Connor McDavid scores his 10th goal of the season. He also scored 10 goals in his first 14 games in 2019. He had 22 points then. He enters tonight with 26 in 13 games and ends the game with his eighth consecutive multi-point game. Ridiculous.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Evan Bouchard becomes the fifth Oilers D-man to score this year and gives them nine goals from their blueline, third most in the NHL.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Game Notes Oilers @ Senators: Stop The Bleeding
- Friday NHL Stat Pack
- Right Side Depth…Finally
- GDB 12.0: Bouchard Makes Debut
- Game Notes Senators @ Oilers: No Mercy
- Monday Musings: Offence and Expectations