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Off the Top of My Head

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
8 months ago
With it sounding like Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland won’t jump into the market for a goaltender before the trade deadline Monday – we can’t say for sure because managers almost never show us their cards – it’s a good a time for Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen to be battling it out in the crease.
While it’s too early to suggest there’s a full-on throw-down for the blue paint underway now, one which could render going to market unnecessary, more of what we’ve seen lately could give Jay Woodcroft decisions to make if Koskinen and Smith stay healthy and continue playing well.
Smith, who has struggled mightily at times this season, is coming off a 27-save outing in a 6-1 win over Buffalo Thursday. Koskinen followed up yesterday afternoon with 25 saves in a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to improve to 11-1-2 in his last 14 starts. The Oilers, meanwhile, have won five straight games at home.
So, rather than force a trade or overpay if Holland can’t find a deal that makes sense and represents a clear upgrade, might the tandem of a rested Koskinen and a healthy Smith – with Stuart Skinner on deck in the AHL with Bakersfield — be good enough until he can re-visit his goaltending this summer? Yes? No? Hell, no?
As has been pointed out many times, Koskinen has shown he can be a quality goaltender if he isn’t ridden too hard with consecutive starts. The key is making sure Koskinen isn’t overworked and that can’t happen unless Smith stays healthy and sharp. Are we seeing a return to that?
“We have full confidence in Mike Smith,” Woodcroft said after the win over Buffalo. “He had some time to work on his game and he put a lot of work into it. He earned the right to feel confident. I think if someone just picked up that stat sheet and it said 6-1, you don’t think there might’ve been some good scoring chances against us — there were. When we broke down at times, Mike Smith was there. That inspires confidence in his teammates as well.”

BLUELINE ADD?

Sniffing out deadline moves is guesswork, some of it educated, some of it less so, if you’re not working the phones with general managers and agents. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the way back into the line-up and with what @Zach Hyman and Evander Kane have added – Kane had two goals including the winner yesterday and Hyman scored the 5-3 goal to tie a career high with his 21st of the season – the Oilers look to be in good shape up front.
My best guess is that if Holland makes a move, it’ll be a low-cost depth addition on the blueline. Holland has bupkis for salary cap space to work with, so I don’t see how he can afford a big ticket like Jakub Chychrun out of Arizona. Could he get Carson Soucy with one year remaining at $2.75 million from Seattle for Tyson Barrie and save some dough? Would the Kraken do that? 
Asked if he’s in the habit of making suggestions to his GM about players he might like to bring in, Woodcroft said: “The lane that I like to stay in is trying to get the most out of the people that are in front of me. If I’m asked questions, I’m not hesitant in any way to give my opinion. Usually, if that’s the case, it’s one where I put a lot of thought and work into forming an opinion about either players on our team or players around the league.”
By the time the puck drops against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver Monday, we’ll know what this team will look like for the stretch drive to the playoffs. Next week, with games against Colorado, Dallas, San Jose and Calgary, will be a tell how ready and able this team is to make some noise when the post-season begins.

SELECT COMPANY

Eve Gascon of the Gatineau Olympiques became just the third woman to play a regular season game in the QMJHL when she took the crease against the Rimouski Oceanic Saturday. Gascon gave up five goals on 23 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss.
Gascon, 18, joined Manon Rheaume and Charline Labonte, who got into 28 games with Acadie-Bathhurst over two seasons, as women to play in the QMJHL. Rheaume, who played one game for Trois-Rivieres Draveurs in 1991-92, is best-known for playing 25 games in the minor leagues – IHL, ECHL and WCHL.
Shannon Szabados, 35, of Edmonton is the only other woman to play at the CHL level or higher. Szabados played with Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan in the AJHL, Tri-City in the WHL, Grant MacEwan and NAIT in the ACAC as well as Columbus and Peoria of the Southern Professional Hockey League,

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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