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Photo Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Top of My Head

It was just last Tuesday goaltender Mike Smith declared himself available to play against the St. Louis Blues after 26 games out of the line-up. That prompted a lot of people, me included, to say that swagger was on its way back to the Edmonton Oilers and they’d be better for it moving ahead. I was sure of it.

Not unexpectedly, given how long he was laid up, it was more stagger than swagger in Smith’s first two outings. He gave up four goals on 33 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Blues and followed that with six goals on 41 shots in a 6-5 OT loss to the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Of the 10 goals Smith allowed on 74 shots, two or three of those – the OT goal by Jack Hughes stands out – were softies, even allowing for rust. Of course, there’s more.

On a 3-7-1 skid before Mikko Koskinen faced the New York Islanders Saturday, the Oilers announced Smith as out day-to-day – the initial status of his injury to start the season. So, with a great start frittered away and some frustrated fans already all over Smith and coach Dave Tippett, now this. Don’t count me among those who insist Smith is washed up after two bad games or that this recent toot into the rhubarb means the game has passed Tippett by, but I’d damn sure like a clarification of “day-to-day.”

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On the first day of 2022 with the 39-year-old Smith on the shelf again, Ilya Konovalov on the bench and Koskinen tending goal, the Oilers wanted and needed two points against the surprisingly awful Islanders, dead-last in the Metropolitan Division. As was the case against the Devils a day earlier, the Oilers settled for one by way of a 3-2 overtime loss. 

A NEW YEAR

Oct 22, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett looks on in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, the Oilers, now sitting at 18-12-2, weren’t as good as they looked early, and they aren’t as bad as their most recent results. That said, it was an unquestionably tough December and there’s a certain segment of the team’s always vocal fan base that wants some action before the Oilers slip too much. Sure.

The way I see it, GM Ken Holland can’t waste too much time twiddling his thumbs while assessing his team, but changes are best made after due diligence and careful consideration. The hair on fire bit, like after the OT loss in New Jersey, is better suited to the post-game show, fan websites and social media than actual team building.

I liked Koskinen Saturday, but he still makes me nervous, especially when his workload gets heavy. That brings us back to Smith. His age and the tendency to break down that comes with getting older for many athletes, makes me nervous too. He’s been banged up multiple times during his time here. With as long as his injury (high ankle sprain) took to come around, what exactly will day-to-day translate this time? Apparently, it’s not the same injury.

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“Mike Smith has an upper-body injury that he sustained in overtime the other night that wouldn’t allow him to back-up today,” Tippett told reporters during his post-game availability. “We’ll see where he is. He’s just day-to-day.”

THAT SCHREMP KID

I hadn’t heard anything about Rob Schremp, drafted 25th overall by the Oilers from the London Knights back in 2004, for years until his name came up in a Mark Spector article in early December. It came up again Friday.

Schremp, 35, played just seven games for the Oilers and 114 in the NHL. Of late, he’s been working as a skills and power play coach in Riga, Latvia. Schremp was the perfect guy for Spector to talk to for a story about the lacrosse-style pass Trevor Zegras made on a goal by Sonny Milano this season. Schremp, after all, mastered every hotdog move – that’s what oldtimers call creativity — in the book decades before anybody heard of Zegras, 

For all the fuss it created, that Zegras play was training wheels stuff compared to Schremp, who would have played a lot more games in the NHL if off-the-hook creativity was as valued as other aspects of the game. Well, it’s not and he didn’t. That’s too bad. Schremp was fun to be around from the moment he was drafted, even if Craig MacTavish didn’t see it that way.

Then, on Friday, this from Schremp’s Twitter feed. I’m not sure what Athletix is all about or what Schremp’s new job as the chief hockey officer will entail, but I wish him well. I’m guessing he’ll do it with great flair. 

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WHILE I’M AT IT

I’m not sure who the reader who goes by the name Kootenay Dan on this site is, but I’m with him when it comes to COVID. I’m tired of it — living with it and writing about it — too. On Dec. 27, I wrote about how quickly Omicron is spreading and how it’s messing up scheduling and travel for NHL teams. Dan responded in the comments:

“If it is not a hockey article, I am no longer reading the article. Enough of the pandemic talk and everybody’s educated opinions. I come here to get away from all the rhetoric not look for it. The world is in chaos and I don’t need to hear about it on a hockey site. Happy New Year hockey fans.”

Agreed. We’re into 2022 now. Enough already. The problem is, when the NHL is postponing games, including four involving the Oilers, as it announced Friday, we can’t leave it alone. As of today, home games Jan. 8 vs. the Islanders, Jan. 12 vs. Minnesota and on Jan. 14 against Las Vegas as well as a Jan. 16 game vs. the Jets in Winnipeg have been postponed.

Previously by Robin Brownlee