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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 40.0: Koskinen Needs A Good First Impression (3pm MT, SNW)

Perception versus reality. Recency bias. First impressions matter.

You’ve likely read about them. Discussed them or experienced them. They exist in some form or another, and they ignite our emotional triggers when watching sports.

Mikko Koskinen is a perfect example of all three.

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When watching him play lately, the perception is that he has struggled. The reality is he has struggled on the first shot of the game, but in the rest of the game he has played well. In five of his last nine starts he has allowed a goal on the first shot of the game. He didn’t allow one in his first 10 starts, so recency bias might be in play.

The first shot of the game is just one shot, and represents only 3.2% of the shots he faces in a game (he has faced an average of 31 shots in his 19 starts), but it can alter the feeling of a game more than the fourth, 15th or 30th shots — especially when Koskinen doesn’t stop it. Not all five first-shot goals were his fault, but because he has allowed five in the past nine games, it can become a mental battle.

We can’t change the past and we know focusing on it won’t solve the present, but the mind can be an athlete’s greatest weapon some days, and also their biggest hurdle.

Simon Hartley’s Peak Performance Every Time is one of the best books I’ve read on mental toughness and training for athletes. It includes a lot of proven research from sport psychology, and also his own experiences of working with elite athletes.

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One passage that stood out to me was about pressure. “Pressure is a product of our imagination…De-construct pressure by seeing the job for what it really is.”

If Koskinen does this he should be fine. He has proven he can be a solid NHL goalie. He isn’t spectacular, he isn’t elite, but when not overplayed, and he is focused, he gives the Oilers a chance to win.

Despite his first-shot struggles, Koskinen still has a .923Sv% since Mike Smith returned to the lineup in early February. If Koskinen can shred the recent first-shot struggles, and continues to play well in the remaining 59 minutes, he has a chance to play more down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs. But he needs to do it.

Just focus on making the first shot. His teammates can help, of course, by not allowing the first shot to be point-blank from the low slot 18 seconds into the game, which is what occurred when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored in Koskinen’s last start on March 30th.

Koskinen is 3-0 with a .937Sv% and 2.00 GAA in three starts against Ottawa. Those are great numbers. He’s allowed allowed a goal on the first shot in his previous two starts against the Sens. He recovered nicely and stopped 40 of the next 41 in Ottawa on February 9th, and 26 of the final 27 on March 8th in Edmonton. He only gave up two goals in both wins, but half of the goals came on the first shot of the game. If your goalie only gets beat twice in a game, your odds of winning are usually very high, so he’s given his team a chance to win, but the first-shot jitters still stand out.

It might not be fair, but it’s reality. No team wants to be down 1-0 in the first minute of a game. Koskinen is 2-3 in the five games he allowed the first shot, and in two of those games the Oilers didn’t score a goal and weren’t very good. So even if he stopped the first shot I’m not sure it would have changed the outcome of the games. The team didn’t seem to have it those nights, but the counter argument will be allowing the first goal deflated them even more. It is a “what if” we can never prove, but that doesn’t mean it has no merit either.

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Of course Koskinen wants to make the first save, but he needs to ensure it happens. He needs to calm his mind and focus on what the job is. Stopping the first shot is no different than stopping the others that follow. We won’t know the degree of difficulty of those shots, but an easy stop on a shot from the outside would be ideal.

Stopping the first shot won’t guarantee a victory or a high sv%, but it will ease some nerves on the ice and on couches across Oilersnation.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl – McDavid – Puljujarvi
Kahun – RNH – Yamamoto
Kassian – Turris – Chiasson
Shore – Khaira – Archibald

Nurse – Barrie
Russell – Larsson
Jones – Bear

Koskinen

** Update** Tippett is put Draisaitl and McDavid together again. Also moved Kassian to left wing.**

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Kyle Turris and Koskinen are in, and Mike Smith and Gaetan Haas come out. Turris faces his former team and he was pretty blunt in assessing his play so far this season. “Just play better. I know I can play better. Be more consistent, creating more and be an all around solid player,” he said.

Can he do it? We’ll see.

Senators

Stutzle –  Tierney –  Batherson
Tkachuk – Norris – Paul
Dzingel – Bishop –  Brown
Formenton– Anisimov – Dadonov

Chabot –  Zaitsev
Reilly –  Zub
Coburn – Brown

Hogberg

The Senators don’t have a clear number one line. They have spread their offence across all four lines in the hopes of being balanced. They have a lot of young promising forwards in Tkachuk, Batherson, Stutzle, Norris and now Alex Formenton has been recalled, but when will they be offensive drivers? They compete hard, they battle, and they aren’t an easy out, but they haven’t been able to match the offensive power of McDavid or Draisaitl thus far. In a few years they might, but if the Senators want to win today they will need to limit Edmonton’s speed through the neutral zone.

I’m a bit surprised Anton Forsberg will not be the fourth goalie to start a game v. the Oilers this season. He has been quite good in this three starts, while the other Ottawa goalies have been lit up by the Oilers. In three starts Matt Murray had a .864Sv% and 4.49 GAA, while Marcus Hodberg (two starts) posted a .800sv% and 5.28 GAA and Joey Daccord (two starts) had an .878Sv% and 4.59 GAA.

Hogberg hasn’t played since being injured on February 18th. The Oilers have averaged 4.85 goals/game so far and their powerplay is 34.8% with eight goals on 23 chances. Will that trend continue?

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From SensChirp.ca:

The Ottawa Senators have had a tough time with the Edmonton Oilers this season.

And when I say tough time, that’s a wee bit of an understatement. The Oilers have won seven straight against the Senators this year, outscoring Ottawa by a 34-15 margin. Some of the lowest points have been against this particular hockey club.

Although all of those unfortunate moments took place in Edmonton. The two times the teams battled at the Canadian Tire Centre, the games were actually much closer including a 3-1 Oiler win and a one-goal game where the Senators actually carried the play most of the night.

So the bad news is, it’s the Edmonton Oilers again. The good news, it ain’t in Edmonton!

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The win streak extends to eight. Oilers win 4-1.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Draisaitl pick up two points each. Oilers PP scores a goal.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Koskinen stops the first shot and picks up his third assist of the season to tie Tristan Jarry for the league lead.

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