The Edmonton Oilers are heading home staring at a 2-0 deficit in their series with the Colorado Avalanche and need to find answers in a hurry. Jay Woodcroft will be a busy man heading into Game Three but figuring out a way to better support and improve his goaltending is priority number one.
Some will take this as a shot at Mike Smith but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, the veteran netminder hasn’t been anywhere near good enough through the first two games of the series and that cannot be ignored. However, there is more to this than the play of their 40-year old goalie.
In order for the Oilers to have a legit shot at winning a series against the Avalanche, they were always going to need excellent goaltending. The problem with that, Edmonton does not have a guy who is good enough to steal games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it’s become more and more problematic.
Be it Smith or Mikko Koskinen, it makes little to no difference. As we have seen throughout Woodcroft’s tenure behind the Oilers bench, both have been good when the team plays a more disciplined game. We’ve seen flashes of that against the Avs but that’s not good enough against an opponent like this.
There is a reason why most consider Colorado one of the very best teams in league. They are not without their flaws but they rarely allow opponents to dictate terms. The Oilers managed to do exactly that against the Calgary Flames and it played a major role in them taking the Battle of Alberta.
Outside of the series opener, Edmonton was the team that decided how each and every game was going to be played and it was up to Calgary to figure out a way to neutralize that. Instead of committing to a system that would limit the Oilers opportunities, they continued to trade chances and it cost them.
Now, the argument could be made that the Flames were forced into playing the way they did and were simply unable to adjust. Fair enough but if that is the case, could the same thing not be said about the Oilers and what they are facing against the Avalanche?
It’s too early to suggest that, as we have yet to see how Woodcroft will counter to what his team has faced to this point in the series. No major adjustment was coming after a goal-filled opener but after last night’s 4-0 loss, changes are coming and it must start with supporting their goaltending.
Edmonton has struggled to manage the puck throughout much of the first two games, part of that is on them and part of it is on what the Avs are doing. Their ability to pressure the Oilers in the offensive zone is creating a number of quality looks and their goaltending is not equipped to survive such an onslaught.
These players have shown an ability to play a more defensively responsible game under Woodcroft and while it hasn’t been evident through large chunks of these playoffs, it must become a priority from here on out. Controlling the match-up game on home-ice will help but there is more to it than just that.
Which bring us back to the goaltending and what to do next. Again, without limiting Colorado’s possession and space in the attacking zone, what they get from the guy in net will make little difference. However, if said tweaks are made, picking the goalie that can hold up their end of the deal is critical.
For all the praise that has come Smith’s way during these playoffs, his level has notably dipped since facing the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The numbers speak for themselves and outside of Game Three against the Flames, by my eye, he’s allowed at least two poor/iffy goals in all of those games.
To be perfectly frank, the fact the Oilers have managed to go 3-3 in those six games is a minor miracle and says quite a bit about how well things were clicking against their provincial rival. More often than not, teams cannot survive that kind of goaltending and certainly not against one as talented as the Avs.
Hence, why the question to replace Smit has as the starter is not only fair to ask but one that must be seriously contemplated. After dropping the first two games of this series, Edmonton’s margin for error is now razor thin and a poor goaltending performance could make the mountain too tall to climb.
Koskinen has only seen mop up duty during the playoffs and like Smith, the big Finn tends to run hot or cold and is also susceptible to allowing bad goals…often at the most inopportune of times. Having said that, staying the course and not trying something different could end this series in a real hurry.
Make no mistake, Woodcroft has lot on his plate heading into what will be a must-win scenario in Game Three but again, no items are bigger than getting the collective to understand the sheer importance of supporting their goaltender and deciding who that goaltender will be. No pressure Jay.