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The Case For Mikko Koskinen

If the Oilers aren’t going to make an upgrade in net, they need to plan for the rest of the season with Mikko Koskinen playing the lion’s share of the games.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

For the 2021-22 Edmonton Oilers, the goaltending position has been one of some valid concern. Fortunately, it’s been a little less bumpy as of late, and it’s thanks to Mikko Koskinen

Mikko Koskinen has been playing very well recently. If the Oilers aren’t planning on making an upgrade in net between now and the deadline, they need to start making plans to start Koskinen like he’s the number one between now and the end of the year.

After a very good 2021 campaign, Mike Smith made a good case to be the number one goaltender for the Oilers this season. Injuries and sub-par numbers have kept Smith from holding onto the top spot on the depth chart. Smith suffered an injury early very early in that kept him out of the season for a couple of months. During that time, Stuart Skinner has emerged in limited action, and he’s shown well in his time with the club. That leaves Mikko Koskinen, who has quietly been putting together more good games than bad ones since late January.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The goaltending position hasn’t been improved since Ken Holland has been on the job. The Oilers are looking more and more like they’re going to make do with what they have.

Having again failed to upgrade their goaltending position again, the Oilers turned to veterans Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen to open the 2021-22 season. When Smith went down in mid-October with a lower body injury, this opened the door for Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner. Everything was gravy, the Oilers power play was kicking at or near 50% for a while. When the numbers came crashing down to Earth in November and December, things started going sideways for a while. Smith re-emerged for a few games in December both he and Koskinen struggled to keep the club afloat. Stuart Skinner (who played exactly one game last season) was beginning to receive some key starts. Smith needed some more time off due to a partially torn tendon. He’s back in the lineup, but he’s struggled mightily since his return in early January.

Fast forward to today: Mikko Koskinen has quietly been stringing together more good games than bad ones, and is making the case to be the team’s number one goaltender for the remainder of this season.

It hasn’t been all bells and whistles for Mikko Koskinen all season. Like all goaltenders, he’s had some clunkers this season. His season SV% of .906 isn’t going to land him any votes for the Vezina. But since late January? He’s clearly the better choice between himself and his crease-mate Mike Smith.

Koskinen’s last outing? One goal allowed, thirty saves against the Stanley Cup Champions, his 21st win of the season. Edmonton’s 4-1 win came at a crucial time for the club; a time when they’re trying to claw back into the playoff picture in the Pacific Division. And while the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t able to put points on the board right now, goaltending has become a strength for the Oilers when Mikko Koskinen is in net.

Since a 44-save performance in a late-January win over the Calgary Flames, Koskinen has won nine of 12, posted one shutout, and is sporting a very lovely .927 SV%. That’s exceptional. It won’t last forever, but I’ll take as much of that as Koskinen is willing to dole out while the Vegas Golden Knights are trapped in cement.

Since last season, Mike Smith’s game has fallen off precipitously. Smith’s last start against Montréal was not good (4 GA on 28 shots), though he did perform well in a 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes on Feb 27th (2 GA in 29). Stuart Skinner (6-6-0, .913 SV% / 2.62 GAA / 1 SO) remains in Bakersfield, though he should be no worse than the backup in Edmonton at this time. It’s not an ideal situation to have a goaltender with fourteen career games as your number 2, but your option are limited when the GM fails to address this issue in the three years he’s been GM.

A NUMBERS GAME

If the Oilers don’t get a goaltender between now and a week from today, the Oilers need to plan for what’s going to happen between now and the rest of the season. Split the games up between Koskinen and Stuart Skinner. (This would require the Oilers to waive Smith, and that’s not going to happen. At least, not this season. Would the Oilers carry 3 goalies? Maybe.)

15 MAR DET Koskinen
17 MAR BUF Skinner
19 MAR NJ Koskinen
21 MAR @COL Koskinen
22 MAR @DAL Skinner
24 MAR SJ Koskinen
26 MAR @CGY Koskinen
30 MAR LA Skinner
1 APR STL Koskinen
3 APR @ANH Koskinen
5 APR @SJ Skinner
7 APR @LA Koskinen
9 APR @MIN Koskinen
14 APR @NSH Skinner
16 APR VGK Koskinen
20 APR DAL Skinner
22 APR COL Koskinen
24 APR @CBJ Skinner
26 APR @PIT Koskinen
28 APR SJ Skinner
29 APR VAN Koskinen

This example gives Mikko Koskinen 14 of the remaining 23 games in goal, or just about 60%. Koskinen doesn’t play more than two in a row from here to the end of the season. Skinner is in place in case things go sideways. Why no Smith? Right now, I don’t know when his next quality start will be. The Oilers are trying to create space between themselves and Vegas (and maybe catch LA in the process), and they can’t afford to see whether or not Smith can “get it going”.

The Oilers host the Red Wings tomrrow, and they’ll need two more points. Right now, there should be no dispute as to who should start. And unless things go sideways, there should be no dispute as to who should start the lion’s share of the games for the rest of the season.