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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Day After: Can I get a save, please?

This Edmonton Oilers team will only go as far as their goaltenders allow.

After a stretch in which the team won six of seven games due in large part to tightened defence and solid goaltending, the boat sprung a leak and the Oilers allowed the Jets to score six goals on 24 shots.

The Oilers drove play for virtually the entire game, dominating the Jets in terms of even-strength shot attempts 60-to-39 and in terms of high-danger scoring opportunities 11-to-6.

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There were a handful of things to like about this game. The team didn’t get deflated after going down 4-to-1 early in the second and rallied back to tie the game at 5-to-5. The Oilers putting up five goals when neither Connor McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl scored one of them is also a positive sign as other players up and down the lineup are now contributing.

Unfortunately, the positives from this game were overshadowed by the team’s inability to keep the puck out of the net.

There’s certainly blame to be put on the Oilers’ skaters as the effort defensively wasn’t as strong as we had seen in recent wins over Montreal and Toronto. The team was chaotic in its own zone, blew coverage, turned the puck over, and allowed the Jets to gain position in front of the net to screen the goalie and deflect shots.

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But, ultimately, the Oilers weren’t as bad as their six-goals-against suggest. This was a game they should have won but their goaltending let them down.

We all knew that Mike Smith wasn’t going to maintain the .980 save percentage that he was sporting heading into Monday’s game. The hope for Edmonton’s goaltending duo isn’t so much for either Smith or Koskinen to singlehandedly win games, it’s just to be good enough to allow the team a chance to win.

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That wasn’t the case last night as the Jets scored on one-quarter of their shots on goal. You aren’t going to win many games when you allow six goals and you certainly aren’t going to have a good time when your goaltenders rock a .750 save percentage.

The rule of thumb for the Oilers last season was fairly simple: ‘don’t allow more than three goals and you’ll be fine.’

In 48 of their games last season, the Oilers did just that. They went 34-8-6 record when holding the other team to no more than three goals. In the 23 games where the other team scored more than three times, the Oilers won just three times.

I wouldn’t sound the alarm or jump off the ledge just yet. Smith has been good in two of three games he’s played and Koskinen will surely be better over time as he takes on a smaller workload. As frustrating as last night’s game was, we know this tandem is a rollercoaster and we know there will be ups and downs.

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This tandem was good enough for the team last season sporting a combined .910 save percentage. As I said earlier, Smith and Koskinen don’t need to be world-beaters, they just need to be good enough to allow the team a chance to win games.

But if performances like this persist and the Oilers find themselves chasing the game and overcompensating for poor goaltending more often than not, Ken Holland will need to find a solution.

Backhanders…

  • William Lagesson suffered an upper-body injury and left last night’s game. Dave Tippett didn’t have an update on Lagesson’s status afterwards, but the Oilers have the blueline depth to compensate for an injury, which is a nice change of scenery from the past.
  • Jason Gregor suggests that we’ll see Evan Bouchard jump over to the left side when Ethan Bear returns to the lineup. Though he’s a right-shot defender, Bouchard has played the left side in junior, and keeping him in games is a priority. Otherwise, if Lagesson misses him, Caleb Jones should find his way back into the lineup.
  • Connor McDavid had a chance to reach 500 career points last night faster than Sidney Crosby reached the milestone but came up just shy. McDavid’s two assists put him at 499 for his career at 368 games. It took Crosby 369 games to reach 500.