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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
11 months ago
As readers around here are no doubt aware, I’ve duly noted more than once that I appreciate how Mike Smith battles when he gets the crease with the Edmonton Oilers. If that were the bottom line when it comes to playing goal in the NHL, Smith would be fine.
But it’s not and he isn’t. To borrow from Captain Obvious, Smith’s job description begins and ends with stopping the puck. How any goaltender gets it done — great reflexes, remarkable technical skills or flat-out determination and never giving up on a puck, otherwise known as battle level – doesn’t matter. However you manage to do it, the job requires that you keep the rubber out of the net. Style points don’t count.
On a night the Oilers held the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning to just 23 shots, Smith failed to get the job done yet again. He allowed four goals on the way to a 5-3 loss in a game his team had a chance to win with even average goaltending. Smith’s .818 save percentage was not that. Not even close.
In a season marked by inconsistency and injury, Smith now sits at 5-6-1 with a 3.65 GAA and .891 save percentage — those last two numbers are his worst in a career spanning 655 games. I wrote two weeks ago this is when Smith has to regain his form if the Oilers are going to have any chance of making a playoff push.
It’s that, or coach Jay Woodcroft has to hand the crease to Mikko Koskinen or Stuart Skinner unless GM Ken Holland makes a deal by the NHL trade deadline March 21. As much as I think Skinner could be the guy down the road, I’m leaning heavily toward the latter, a trade, although that’s obviously easier said than done.

POINTING FINGERS

The first three games of this five-game road trip, last night against Tampa Bay and with stops in Florida and Carolina to come, should give the Oilers a good idea where they stack up heading into the deadline and the stretch drive. The problem is lousy goaltending is undoing a lot of what they’re doing right. Like that 3-1 goal by Brayden Point last night. Somebody open a window.
On top of that, Smith felt the need to scold William Lagesson and rookie Markus Niemelainen after the goal. Sure. I’ve had Smith’s back on more than one occasion through some rough patches here, but showing up teammates when you’re playing as badly as he is now is laughable. Here’s a thought, just make a damn save, Mike. Let’s start there.
Woodcroft won’t say that. There’s nothing in it for him or his team to point fingers at any of his goaltenders. “I think (Smith) tried to battle through some things and he, you know, he made some saves for us as well,” he said. “We had a chance to win that game. Like I said, we gave up 23 shots on net. That’s a good thing. I think.”
Sure it is. For the most part, the Oilers have played the brand of hockey Woodcroft has asked of them since he took over the bench from Dave Tippett. The Oilers haven’t been flawless, but no team is. The thing is, the Oilers played well enough to beat the Lightning last night but didn’t because they got beat in the blue paint again.
That either changes or fans are looking at yet another season of what might have been, of what could have and should have happened but didn’t. When the season started, I thought the Oilers might be able to get by with a tandem made up from the trio of Smith, Koskinen and Skinner in the crease, but I don’t see it that way today. I can’t imagine anybody does.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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