Photo credit:Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
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3 months ago
Mikko Koskinen has been mentioned more than once since the Edmonton Oilers 11-game lurch to start this season reached 2-8-1 with Monday’s 6-2 drubbing from the Vancouver Canucks – the loss that led to Jack Campbell being waived.
You know the Oilers’ goaltending has come off the rails when having Koskinen in tandem with Mike Smith represents the good old days in the crease. While I can’t shake the image of the under-appreciated Koskinen hacking away at the goalpost after allowing four goals on four shots against the Canucks in 2021, the reality is he and Smith were far superior to what we’ve seen from Campbell and Stuart Skinner this season. It’s not close.
Campbell has been demoted, Skinner’s confidence and his save percentage are in shreds, and Calvin Pickard has been summoned from Bakersfield to help stop the bleeding in the blue paint. All that with the Oilers staring at a lowdown showdown of the feeble with the San Jose Sharks, now 1-10-1 after getting their first win of the season, 2-1 over Philadelphia Tuesday.
When the season began, I expected to see the Oilers battling with the Vegas Golden Knights at the top of the Pacific Division, not playing bottom-feeders with the sad-sack Sharks in the depths of the division a dozen games into the schedule. So did many of you. Sure, you did. What we’ve got instead is a team in disarray and a fanbase in a frenzy, rightfully slinging blame like there’s no tomorrow.
Now, a must-win game with San Jose. Sure.
WHAT A MESS
Oct 21, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele (55) celebrates a game winning goal during overtime against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
I thought and wrote not that long ago that I saw the Oilers, flaws and all, as being Stanley Cup contenders. It looked like Campbell had gathered himself over the off-season. His pre-season was solid. He looked ready to put 2022-23 in the rear-view mirror. I expected Skinner to provide an encore to a rookie campaign that made him a finalist for the Calder Trophy. I expected Campbell and Skinner to be good enough in tandem to allow the Oilers to take another step toward Cup contention. Wrong. Not close.
Goaltending isn’t the only problem as the Oilers face the Sharks, but it’s at the top of the list. The Oilers are 31st in goals-against with 47 and 26th in goals-for with 29. The penalty killing is 29th at 68.9 and what was an historically good power play has slipped to ninth at 68.9 per cent. This team has no chance to even make the playoffs, let alone contend for anything, unless it gets some stops. This is not a news flash.
I keep hearing people say the Oilers are broken – that’s a broad-brush bit of lingo the cool kids are using these days – but I’m not sure what that means exactly. The way I see it, a timely save or two and having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl snap out of their funks would go a long way in sorting things out. The Oilers don’t need great goaltending to turn things around, but the team’s save percentage has to start with a nine.
With the Sharks on deck, we’re at the point of frustration now that a fan calling the Kevin Karius Show on Sports 1440 this morning was criticizing Jay Woodcroft for not showing enough emotion in Vancouver when he got the heave-ho late in the game. He said he’d rather see the fire of a John Tortorella in a situation like that. OK.
I see where the caller is coming from, and I never minded seeing a well-done tantrum on the bench by a coach willing to take one for the team. That said, the bottom line is it’s largely performative, sort of like players or coaches dropping F-bombs in frustration during post-game interviews. We’ve seen that a time or two this season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With the Sharks having avoided setting a modern-day record for futility with their win over the Flyers, the Oilers will be facing a team looking to fashion the start of a turnaround at their expense. They don’t need Woodcroft to lose his poop by emptying the stick rack to get started on their own reversal of fortune, but they damn sure better find a way get on with it.
They need improved defensive play, better special teams and McDavid and Draisaitl doing what they do. Most important, the Oilers need a save. That’s where it starts. Without that, they’ll lose to the Sharks Thursday and, well, nevermind . . .
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