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The Edmonton Oilers Need Better Goaltending

Just about everyone, except the Edmonton Oilers themselves, knew the team's main combo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen were not enough to take a playoff-caliber team deep into the 2021-22 season. Something needs to change, and soon.
Mikko Koskinen

It's as simple as that.

Just about everyone, except the Edmonton Oilers themselves, knew the team's main combo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen were not enough to take a playoff-caliber team deep into the 2021-22 season. 

In Smith's case, he's just old, and his body isn't keeping up like it used to. For Koskinen, he has rarely proven capable of playing No. 1 minutes when Smith is out, like he's been for most of the season.

Coach Dave Tippett called out Koskinen on Monday after the goalie's puck-playing gaffe behind his own net led to the 1-0 New York Rangers goal. Koskinen also shot the puck over the glass to cause a penalty at one point and allowed a few other stinkers in a 4-1 loss.

“It’s a brutal mistake,” Tippett. “What are you going to do? Call it what it is. We’re playing well, and it’s a brutal mistake.”

Scoring is an overall concern for this group as of late, getting outscored 34-48 since Dec. 1. The Oilers boast 3-8-2 record since that date, back when the team looked nearly unstoppable and a true threat to lead the Western Conference down the stretch. But yet again, goaltending has been an Achilles' heel for a team boasting two of the best players in the world.

Something needs to change. And this shouldn't surprise anyone, anywhere.

What's the point in wasting prime years of Connor McDavid's and Leon Draisaitl's careers? They're truly capable of incredible hockey and will once again battle for the major offensive awards this season. But they can't keep doing this themselves; the Oilers need to finally invoke change in the crease.

Because, frankly, it's been an issue for far too long. Edmonton's starting goalies since McDavid entered the league have been Cam Talbot, Koskinen and Smith. Talbot was excellent in 2016-17 when he played 73 games but otherwise struggled in the other three years of his tenure in Alberta.

Smith, Edmonton's No. 1 this season (in theory), has played four games this season, missing most of the 2021 portion with a lower-body injury before suffering an upper-body injury on Dec. 31. Nobody knows for sure when he'll be back, but it's hard for a big 39-year-old to bounce back after so much time away. And that was always a risk when GM Ken Holland made the puzzling decision to sign Smith to a two-year deal this past off-season. Add in a career's worth of shaky, unpredictable netminding from Koskinen and even the newest hockey fan with minimal knowledge of the game can tell something's wrong.

The Oilers have a 23-year-old they like in Stuart Skinner, who has played well at points over a 10-game stretch. But he still holds a 4-5-0 record, has had his fair share of rough nights and has just 11 games of NHL experience over two seasons to his credit. That's not someone you want filling the No. 1 role on a championship contender. Skinner seems to be a popular figure among Oilers fans, and his play this season, for the most part, warrants a more extended look with the big club. 

How bad has Koskinen been? Of all goaltenders with at least 10 games played, Koskinen's .906 save percentage is 44th of 48 goalies at 5-on-5. Skinner isn't that much better .913 in 35th but improves to 32nd with a minus-1.70 goals-saved-above-average stat. Koskinen? He's 46th with a minus-6.57. 

The Oilers have been linked to just about every goalie on the trade market this season, including Chicago's Marc-Andre Fleury. In theory, Fleury would be the missing piece after managing to play some good hockey on a non-playoff team a season after winning his first Vezina. 

Fleury is one of the most experienced big-game goalies in the league, even if he necessarily didn't play in all those Stanley Cup finals with Pittsburgh. Fleury has proven he still has a lot in the tank, and would likely be the missing piece the team needs. Of all the goalies potentially available this season, Fleury is the biggest needle-mover, and someone the Oilers should definitely take a run at, even it means moving a top young prospect to make it happen.

If Holland is serious about taking this Oilers team to the playoffs, he can't stand pat here. The trade market is a bit wonky, and has been since COVID-19 struck down, but Edmonton can't sit pat with all the momentum the team built at the start of the year, only to start falling flat. The Pacific Division is wide open, and one the Oilers could easily contend for.

But if that's really to happen, something needs to change in the crease. Edmonton's record when allowing at least four goals is 3-10-1. That's 14 of Edmonton's 33 games – or 42 percent – where a team averaging a 10th-place 3.30 goals-per-game haven't been capable of overcoming bad goaltending. The Oilers have allowed the 11th most goals-per-game this season at 3.24, but most of the teams with more – outside of Colorado – aren't serious playoff contenders.

The Oilers need to make a change. And fast.

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