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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In Tandem

There’s certainly room for debate whether the Edmonton Oilers have good enough goaltending as they hit the final stretch before playoffs, but there’s no question Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith have been better in 29 games under Jay Woodcroft than they were before he arrived.

For the first time in a long time, the Oilers have a true tandem at work in the blue paint. The Oilers are 19-7-3 under Woodcroft as they take on the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul tonight and Koskinen and Smith have virtually identical statistics with their new bench boss. They have been as close to a true 1A and 1B duo as it gets.

Koskinen got most of the work during Dave Tippett’s 44 games (23-18-3) after Smith was injured in the third game of the season. He got 26 games to Smith’s eight. Stuart Skinner got into 12 games. Koskinen was 16-8-2 with a 3.15 GAA and had a .900 save percentage. In his eight games, Smith was 2-4-1 with 3.83 and .890. Skinner, meanwhile, was 5-6-0 with 2.85 and .908.

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Under Woodcroft, Koskinen and Smith have both seen action in 15 games, 14 of those being starts. Skinner got into one game, a start. Koskinen is 9-2-2 with a 2.85 GAA and .911. Smith is 9-5-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .910. Those aren’t Vezina numbers to be sure, but the Oilers don’t need those to have a fighting chance.

WHAT THEY SAY

Oct 27, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) replaces goaltender Mike Smith (41) after Smith let in 3 second period goals by the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place.

There’s more to the .707 clip the Oilers are playing at these last 29 outings than Koskinen and Smith finding their games. Most nights, Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson have the team playing better defensively – at least it looks that way to me.

“Ever since I’ve been here, I think both goaltenders are proving that they want the net,” Woodcroft said before the Oilers chartered into Minnesota after skating Monday afternoon. “They’re both competitors, veteran goaltenders that know how to win in this league and that bring different attributes to the table. They’re both driven.

“I think they’re both leaders, even though they have completely different personality types. I think having both goaltenders playing at the level they’re playing at is a good luxury for our coaching staff to have.”

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As the last line of defence, goaltenders often get too much credit when the puck stays out of the net and too much blame when it doesn’t. Some nights, it seems Koskinen and Smith can’t stop a beach ball. Others, it looks like they’re channeling Grant Fuhr. The reality is that the good and the bad often extends beyond the crease.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“I think our goaltenders are playing very well. I think our team is playing very well,” Woodcroft said. “The chicken and the egg aspect of things, I think it’s a credit to the hard work that our goaltenders are putting in, but also the credit should go to how our team is playing in front of them. That’s due to the hard work and execution of our players.”

Previously by Robin Brownlee