Surprise surprise, we’re one day into the playoffs and we have a goaltending controversy on our hands.
As it had been the thorn in Edmonton’s side for a good part of the season, goaltending was again an issue for the Oilers in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings.
Mike Smith, who came into the playoffs riding a nine-winning streak in which he sported a .951 save percentage, didn’t have his best outing. He allowed a pair of so-so goals in the first period to give the Kings an early lead, and then, after the Oilers came back, he promptly allowed a third to put the team back in a hole.
The egregious part of Smith’s night came late in the third period with the score tied at 3-3…
The Kings dumped the puck in and Smith played it behind the net, but rather than passing it off into the corner for one of his defencemen, the greybeard opted to fire the puck up the middle of the ice.
Alex Iafallo intercepted it and Smith made an insane diving stop to rob him of a goal. After that, though, the Kings regained possession and the puck made its way to the point for Sean Durzi, who wired a shot that was tipped by Phillip Danault past Smith for what would wind up being the game-winner.
And that’s that. The Oilers are down 1-0 in their first-round series with the Kings. Smith stopped 31 of 35 shots all told and was mostly fine, not sharp but seemingly good enough for the team to squeeze out a win, up until that game-changing mistake late in the third.
After the game, Smith took responsibility for the goal, saying
that it was what ultimately cost the team the game.
“I was trying to make something happen and I tried to do too much,” Smith said
. “You can’t make that play at that time. It cost us the game. You can’t do anything about it now. We have to move on and get over it.”
So, what now? Does Jay Woodcroft go back to Smith for Game 2? Or does he have a quick hook and roll with Mikko Koskinen?
The argument against Smith…
This is the second time in three years he’s been a key factor behind Edmonton’s loss in Game 1 of the playoffs. In the bubble in 2020, Smith was lit up for four goals in the first period right after the Oilers had grabbed an early 1-0 lead. He allowed one more in the second, got pulled, and Koskinen played the rest of the series.
It was an ugly performance in which Smith looked rusty from a five-month layoff that ultimately resulted in Koskinen getting the nod, but this time, it would be because of a bone-headed play that directly cost the team the game. Smith’s notorious for being all over the grid and playing a risky style, which might not be ideal in a playoff series in which the margin for error is incredibly thin.
It’s difficult to say if the team can play confidently knowing there’s an enigma behind them.
The argument in favour of Smith…
It’s only been one game and the emotions were high. Smith tried to make a superhero play and it wound up biting him but he’s an experienced goaltender who more than likely will tone his decision-making back given the circumstances. Beyond that one play, it wasn’t an awful game for Smith. We’d be pointing out how that’s 10-consecutive wins for him had the Oilers won, but the veteran got in the way of himself.
As I mentioned earlier, Smith posted a .951 save percentage during that nine-game winning streak and he hasn’t dropped back-to-back starts since late February and early March.
It was clearly a priority for the Oilers to give Smith the opportunity to go on one of his runs this season, otherwise, they would have pulled the plug back when he allowed 21 goals over the course of five starts back in January and early February. Smith had all kinds of ups and downs this season and he finally pulled it together down the stretch.
It would be surprising to see the Oilers pull the plug this quickly when it seemed they had captured lightning in a bottle.