The 2021-22 NHL season has had its share of twists and turns unlike any other season in recent memory for the Edmonton Oilers, and it seems the Oilers’ goaltending situation has mirrored the ups and downs of the season. However, both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen look like they might be on the upswing as the playoffs approach.
Smith looks like he has returned to form for the first time this season and is undefeated in his last six games, including back-to-back shutouts against the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. He has now improved to 8-1-1 in his last nine games.
The silver lining for Oilers fans is that Smith is well-rested after sitting on the injured reserve list for close to three-quarters of the season. Koskinen, though not as hot as Smith lately, has improved his play, especially since the dismissal of former head coach Dave Tippett. Koskinen currently has a 25-11-4 record with a .902 save percentage (SV%) and has earned the confidence of the team with clutch performances such as the victory over the Florida Panthers in late February and the recent goaltending duel with Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper in the Oilers 2-1 shootout loss to the Avalanche on April 9.
What About the Playoffs?
That’s the million-dollar question in Oil Country these days. This is general manager (GM) Ken Holland’s big gamble, and everyone is hoping this is the season it pays off. The Oilers may not have that stud goaltender like the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, but as Oilers fans have learned over this season, don’t count Smith or Koskinen out. Especially Smith. He is in great shape and finally looking healthy. At the age of 40 years old, he’d love nothing more than to win Lord Stanley’s Cup and prove his critics wrong. If Tom Brady can win the Super Bowl in his early 40s, there might be a chance for Smith to win the Stanley Cup.
Let’s be clear, though, Smith isn’t Brady, but his recent play is resembling that of a goalie in his prime rather than one who is over the hill. As for Koskinen, he might be looking for a swan song in Edmonton, as this could be his final season with the Oilers.
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Koskinen has been much maligned since signing his three-year, $13.5 million contract in 2019. But in all fairness to him, he would have been crazy to turn down the offer from former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. However, Koskinen’s price tag was too much for Oilers fans to bear over his time in Alberta’s capital city. In a blue-collar city like Edmonton, big contracts like Koskinen’s or former Oiler Shawn Horcoff don’t go over well. While the fans may like Koskinen, their dislike of his contract tarnishes their perception of him, and there have been challenging times for both Koskinen and the fans over his three years with the Oilers.
Comparing the Oilers Goaltending to Other Playoff Teams
With the exception of the Colorado Avalanche or Minnesota Wild, the Oilers’ goaltending might be on par with the other Western Conference teams currently in playoff contention. When you drill down to the Pacific Division, the Oilers’ duo of Smith and Koskinen might be equal to the Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, and Vegas Golden Knights.
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Before you believe that Jacob Markstrom is the end-all, be-all of Pacific Division goalies, you have to look at his recent play. Even though Markstrom and the Flames have been the darlings of the Pacific Division this season, you have to wonder if head coach Darryl Sutter has overplayed Markstrom. In recent games, he hasn’t looked like he did mid-season, and if the Flames hope to advance, they need a rested Markstrom to lead the way as he has for most of the season.
When you compare the Oilers to the other Canadian team in the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, you might have to give the nod to the Oilers based on experience. It’ll be interesting to see if the Leafs’ unproven duo of Jack Campbell and Erik Kallgren will be up for the task of leading the Leafs to their first playoff round victory since 2004 and their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1967.
If the Oilers’ Goaltending Holds Up in Round One, Hang Onto Your Hats
The stars could be aligning for the Oilers as the playoffs approach. They won’t be facing a stud goalie like the Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck in the first round, and if Smith or Koskinen Oilers can get into the second round, you just never know. The Oilers also have insurance waiting in the wings, as fan favourite Stuart Skinner would be ready to go in case of injury. Skinner’s been playing well all season, both in the NHL and in the American Hockey League (AHL). Skinner currently has an 18-5 record with a .915 save percentage (SV%) with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. He could be ready for his prime-time moment if called into action.
As the 2021-22 regular season winds down, the Oilers have to feel more positive about their team heading into the playoffs than they have all season. The Oilers are 20-8-3 under interim head coach Jay Woodcroft, and despite a couple of speed bumps, the team led by superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is coming together at the right time, and the same could be said for the goaltending.
The Oilers have experienced some true magic with their goaltenders over the team’s history. There was the heroic play of Andy Moog upsetting the Montreal Canadiens in 1981. There was the great Grant Fuhr and his five Stanley Cup rings and clutch playoff performances from Bill Ranford, Curtis Joseph, and Dwayne Roloson. The table is set for Smith and Koskinen to write their own playoff success story in their own way. Based on the history of the Oilers franchise and the recent play of their goaltending duo, it might not be too far-fetched to think that Smith and Koskinen could have a good run, one that could take the Oilers farther than they’ve been in years.