The Edmonton Oilers are in a precarious position.
Yesterday, the club placed goaltender Mike Smith on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled Stuart Skinner from the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
Edmonton hits the road for a trip south of the 49th parallel for the first time in a year and a half with a game in Glendale against the Arizona Coyotes Thursday, before stopping in Sin City to play Vegas.
The logical choice here for the Oilers would be to start Stuart Skinner against Arizona and Mikko Koskinen against Vegas, right? Well, it seems that may not be the case.
According to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, Koskinen gets the start Thursday against the Coyotes. This, too, followed a Spector suggestion from earlier Thursday that the Oilers may go with Koskinen in back-to-backs, but noted they still could split the games with Skinner getting the Arizona game.
But going with Koksinen in both games, that’s a fool’s plan.
In the current state of the NHL, goalies just don’t play back-to-back games with no rest in between like this. Teams have backup goaltenders for a reason, and they’re there to take on some of the workloads — especially in scenarios like back-to-backs.
To ask an elite goaltender to play two games in such quick succession is a lot, let alone a still fragile netminder like Mikko Koskinen. No knock against him, but he’s trying to rebuild his confidence in his own game after a tough go in 2019-20.
What happens if Koskinen struggles against an Arizona team with lots to fight for, then is asked to stand tall against a Vegas team that attacks in waves? That’s not a way to put your goaltender in a position to be successful.
Just last year, as mentioned before, Koskinen was heavily relied upon in the early goings of the season and struggled mightily in doing so. Just once in 2019-20, however, was he asked to play in such quick succession. The Oilers opened the season on Jan. 13 against Vancouver, and lost 5-3. Koskinen faced 35 shots and made 30 saves for a .857 save percentage. The next night he played better, allowing two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.
There’s a number of other instances where Koskinen played these types of back-to-backs dating back to his first stint in the NHL:
- He played in back-to-backs with the Islanders on Feb. 10-11, 2011. He allowed three goals on 40 shots in game one (.925 sv%) and three goals on 38 shots in game two (.921). Both games were wins, and he combined for a .923 save percentage.
- On Jan. 19-20, 2019 with the Oilers he played back-to-backs. In game one against Calgary, he allowed five goals on 34 shots (.853) and game two against Carolina he allowed three goals on 18 shots (.833) before being pulled for Cam Talbot. Edmonton lost both games and Koskinen combined for a .846 save percentage.
- The following month he was asked to do it again. Feb. 27, 2019, against Toronto he allowed four goals on 16 shots, posted a .750 save percentage, and was pulled in favour of Anthony Stolarz. The following night against Ottawa he allowed two goals on 37 shots posting a .946 save percentage. The Oilers lost game one, but won game two and Koskinen combined for a .887 save percentage. 1-1
- Between March 16-17, 2019, he did it a fourth time. In game one he beat Arizona allowing two goals on 30 shots posting a .933 save percentage. In game two against Vegas, he allowed six goals on 34 shots posting a .824 save percentage. Edmonton won game one, but lost game two while he posted a .875 save percentage.
- He did it again between April 1-2, 2019. In game one against Vegas he allowed two goals on 30 shots posting a .933 save percentage in a loss. In game two against Colorado, he allowed six goals on 29 shots posting a .793 save percentage. He combined for a .875 save percentage. 0-2
All in all, the numbers aren’t great for Koskinen. In game one of the back-to-backs, he’s posted a .893 save percentage. In game two, he’s posted a .872 save percentage.
In the back-to-backs combined, Koskinen posted a 3-7 record, was pulled twice, and had an abysmal .882 save percentage. It’s worth noting too, that’s this is a small sample size with multiple other things that can and would impact those numbers. Nonetheless, it’s relevant to ponder given the current circumstances.
But It’s not like recall Stuart Skinner is Just A Guy, either. He appeared in four preseason games this year posting a 2-0-1 record and a .920 save percentage. His AHL numbers, too, have improved year in and year out.
On top of that, he’s drawn consistent compliments from Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, who has noted how strong all four Oilers goalies (Koskinen, Smith, Skinner, and Ilya Konovalov) looked in the preseason action they got. Why would the Oilers go against its own word and run Koskinen in back-to-backs when they clearly like what Skinner has done?
We’ll know more soon enough if the Oilers’ plan is to back-to-back with Koskinen, but based on the player’s track record I have a hard time imagining this is in the best interest of the club even with a four-day break before the next game. Edmonton has a 3-0 record to start the year, and while yes it’s early and Koskinen is fresh, every game counts — doubly so against two inter-division opponents.