Given Mike Smith is 39 and Mikko Koskinen has been known to struggle at times when overworked, the Edmonton Oilers couldn’t ask for a more accommodating schedule to start this season. It’s no small consideration given some of the consternation over the Oilers’ crease tandem this off-season.
Dave Tippett said earlier this week Smith, 2-0 with a 1.92 GAA and .953 save-percentage in wins over Vancouver and Calgary, will make a third straight start when the Anaheim Ducks come calling tonight. While three straight isn’t a big deal so early in the season, a favorable schedule this month is a far cry from the situation the Oilers faced early last season.
Thanks to having three days between their final pre-season game Oct. 9 and a 3-2 shootout win over the Canucks last Wednesday, two more days off before a 5-2 win over the Flames Saturday and another couple of days off leading into tonight, Smith is ready to go. With back-to-back games in Arizona and Las Vegas Thursday and Friday of this week, expect to see Koskinen in one of them.
“Koski will get in there soon,” Tippett said. “Mike played really well the first two games. We’ll put him in there (Tuesday) and then we’ll re-evaluate once we get on the road.”
You’ll recall Smith was injured to start last season and Koskinen played the first dozen games. Not ideal. Koskinen finished up at .899 through his 26 appearances. I don’t know what the season split between Smith and Koskinen will look like through a full 82-game schedule, but keeping both of them fresh is especially important.
“It allows you to not over-tax people,” Tippett said of the roster in general. “We’re not worried about over-taxing people when we’re not playing a lot of games right now . . . it gives you time to play a game, step back, reflect. ‘OK, here’s some areas we’ve got to continue to improve at. Here’s some things we’re doing well.’ It allows you to catch your breath.”
BACK IN TOWN
In another example time flies, tonight will mark Dallas Eakins’ first time behind the bench in Edmonton since his failed 113-game Chop Wood, Carry Water tenure with the Oilers mercifully ended during the 2014-15 season. When Eakins hit the bricks, he’d put together a 36-63-14 (.381) record here.
It doesn’t feel like very long ago, but when you look at the roster the Oilers will dress tonight, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are the only players who remain from the 2014-15 team that split the season with Eakins and then replacement Todd Nelson before Connor McDavid arrived.
I only knew Eakins as a fringe player during my time writing the beat before he arrived here as a coach, but if I’m honest about it, pretty much everything about his time here rubbed me the wrong way – and I wasn’t even around much at that point. It started when GM Craig MacTavish became so quickly smitten with Eakins, who he’d approached to become an associate coach on Ralph Krueger’s staff, he fired Krueger by way of Skype and hired Eakins.
Eakins arrived as something of an analytics darling after enjoying success in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, but his approach to the game never translated here. There was the Chop Wood, Carry Water slogan in the room, the removal of some team memorabilia from the players’ area and, even more significant, the removal of donuts from the media table. Deal-breaker right there. My most vivid memory of Eakins is the childish and animated beef he got into with Taylor Hall on the bench over some spilled water. Then, there was the abomination that was the swarm defence.
Eakins is in his third season with the Ducks after four seasons on their AHL farm in San Diego. I’m thinking that his time with the Oilers, subsequent firing and stint in the AHL was a big slice of humble pie for a guy who simply came in way too hot his first time around. Eakins admitted mistakes he made and has moved on.
Going into tonight, Eakins is 48-64-18 (.438) with a rebuilding Anaheim team loaded with promise and he’s got a career mark of 84-127-32 (.412) as an NHL coach.