It’s not entirely fair, and more than a little callous, that I have the evergreen tweet “Koskinen makes the save” at the ready in my cell phone. But that’s how it is, given Mikko Koskinen’s penchant for allowing goals on the first shot of the game – it’s something he’s done six times while tending goal for the Edmonton Oilers.
Well, I had it in the chamber again last night as Koskinen took the crease against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place, and that’s where it stayed on a historically bad night for the towering Finnish goaltender. Nils Hoglander made sure of that, beating Koskinen just 31 seconds into the game. The rest we know. Jack Rathbone made it 2-0 with his first NHL goal, Travis Hamonic made it 3-0 and Jayce Hawryluk put the Canucks up 4-0.
When coach Dave Tippett finally gave him the hook at 12:22, Koskinen hadn’t made a single save. Four goals on four shots. It’s happened before, but not in more than 30 years. Washington’s Don Beaupre did it in November 1989, getting shelled by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dan Bouchard of the Atlanta Flame was likewise lit up like a $2 cigar by the Montreal Canadiens in March 1979. I didn’t remember either instance last night, but this one, on the way to the Oilers losing 6-3 to the Canucks, is burned in my brain.
After Hamonic scored, I tweeted “Now it’s 3-0. Hook him, coach.” Nope. When Hawryluk made it 4-0, my mind raced back to the night in December 1995 when Montreal coach Mario Tremblay left Patrick Roy – I’m confident this is the first and last time I’ll ever mention Koskinen and Roy in the same sentence – in for nine goals in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
When Roy finally got the hook at 11:57 of the second period, he stormed off, gave Tremblay the stink eye and went to president Ronald Corey behind the bench and declared he’d played his last game for the Habs. It was, indeed, Roy’s last game – he was traded to Colorado days later. We can only hope for the same. I’m kidding. This is not that, although Koskinen’s measured approach to hacking his stick into two pieces on the goal post before leaving the ice is certainly memorable and right on brand.
IT WAS UGLY
“First one was poor coverage, the second was a turnover, the third and fourth should have been saved by the goalie,” Tippett said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that with a goalie where the first four shots go in your net. Big hole to jump out of . . . after the third one I was going to let him battle. After the fourth one, we needed a change. Some nights, it’s not your night.”
“The whole team wasn’t good to start, said Connor McDavid, who upped his points total to 96 with three assists. “We weren’t ready to go. They got the jump on us and we couldn’t stop the bleeding . . . you play the same team four times in a row, they’re bound to figure you out and put together a game. They’re a determined group and they’re not going to lay down and go to sleep on us.”
No surprise Tippett and McDavid had Koskinen’s back. That’s what teams do. The truth is, Koskinen has faced something of an uphill battle here since fired former GM Peter Chiarelli signed him to a three-year extension worth $13.5 million on the way out the door. That’s big money for an unproven goaltender. So far this season, Koskinen has been outplayed by 39-year-old Mike Smith, who came in to mop up last night.
Despite a rough stretch or two during his time here, Smith is a battler who has shoved it up the backsides of his critics the past two seasons on two bargain contracts. Smith is the clear-cut starter now. Koskinen is goal-on-the-first-shot guy. He’s another Chiarelli mistake, at least that’s the perception by many. In his time with the Oilers, Koskinen is 55-46-9 with a 2.91 GAA and a .909 save-percentage through 117 games. By comparison, Smith is 38-18-8 with a 2.64 GAA and .912 through his 69 games.
This season? No contest. Smith is 19-6-2 with a 2.26 GAA and .925 in 30 games while Koskinen, who got too much work early when Smith was out with an injury, is 12-12-0 with a 3.15 GAA and .900 in 24 games. What have you done for me lately? In this business, especially with the Oilers on the way to the playoffs, that matters. It always has and always will.
Look at how most fans reacted to the re-signing of Smith last off-season after the clunker he produced in the first game of the play-in series against the Chicago. Blackhawks. Here and now, with Smith already having taken over as the go-to guy, Koskinen will have to wear last night, even though he was coming off a really good stretch of games.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As for what happens with Koskinen and Smith this coming off-season, I don’t know. Might GM Ken Holland try to move Koskinen? Might he consider re-signing Smith to play alongside Alex Stalock or somebody else? That’ll play out, and how the rest of this season and playoffs go will have big sway in that.
As for right now, I’m guessing Koskinen will get another game or even two to try to put last night in the rear-view mirror. Smith can use the rest and the Oilers are certainly better off if Koskinen can put some minutes and a “Koskinen makes the save” or two between himself and that hideous four goals on four shots display we saw last night.