Be it tonight against the New York Islanders or in a couple of days from now when the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit to the New Jersey Devils, Mikko Koskinen will get a chance to start his first game of the 2019-20 campaign. No matter which one he winds up playing, it is apparent the towering guardian is going to have to hit the ground running in order to win over Dave Tippett’s trust and earn regular playing time.
Despite looking shaky throughout and giving away two goals against the Los Angeles Kings in what turned out to be a 6-5 Oilers win, Mike Smith was given a chance to finish his previous start. In most cases, a goaltender would have been pulled after what was a disastrous opening twenty minutes and yet the head coach appeared to have not even entertained the notion of making a change between the pipes.
Koskinen Needs Game Action
When one takes into consideration his previous history with the 37-year old, it should not have come as a complete shock to have seen him stick with his guy. However, when a netminder hands the opposition a pair of freebies in the fashion Smith did, it almost always leads to the hook coming out from behind the bench. That is not how it played out and in the end, the decision to not make a move worked out in the team’s favour
With the club riding a modest two-game win streak to start the season, don’t be surprised to see No. 41 get a third consecutive starting assignment. Let’s not forget, most coaches are hesitant to go away from the so-called hot-hand. Though said “tag” could be argued when it comes to Smith, back-to-back wins are back-to-back wins and that may ultimately determine who gets the nod on Long Island.
If nothing else, that on its own should serve as enough of a wake-up call for Koskinen. His age, contract status, and salary suggest he should be the Oilers No. 1 goalie but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. While the organization was and still is hoping for a return on their investment, there is a reason why they went out and signed Smith to the incentive laden deal they did.
Tippett Not Sold On Koskinen
Despite giving Koskinen a three-year, $13.5 million extension back in January, no one was sold on him being able to carry the load of a legit starting netminder. Add in a less than impressive showing during the pre-season and suddenly the doubt within the organization’s front office has made its way over to the new bench boss. It’s not as if Smith was on fire during his pre-season appearances either but that is almost secondary.
Even with the discrepancy in salary and being the goaltender that held the job for the Oilers over the back half of 2018-19, Koskinen found himself on the outside looking in on opening night against the Vancouver Canucks. As if coming off the uneven campaign he had endured last season wasn’t challenging enough, the 31-year old now has to make an impression and do so in short order.
With the Oilers not scheduled to play back-to-back games until the end of October, a poor showing in his first start could lead to the Finnish netminder seeing limited action over the opening month of the season. Obviously, at his age and with the wear and tear on his body being what it is, Smith isn’t capable of carrying a heavy workload over the course of an 82-game campaign. It is a point that simply cannot be argued.
Smith nor Koskinen Are No. 1 Goalies
However, if Koskinen continues to show he can’t handle the pressure that comes with being an NHL starter, Smith will see the lion’s share of work early on and that will only prove to be problematic moving forward. Like it or not but in order for this set-up to have a shot at working, the Oilers are going to need both guys playing well, which is why it was a tad surprising to see Tippett go back to Smith against Kings.
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The last game action Koskinen saw was back on September 28th, which means he has already sat for ten days between appearances. Again, by not having him play the Oilers are not doing him or themselves any favours and as previously mentioned, it could actually be setting him up to fail right out of the gate. An odd decision to be sure but it’s being made by a coach who clearly doesn’t believe in what he has.
Not an ideal situation by any means but at least during the earlier stages of the season, it is on Dave Tippett to ensure both his goaltenders receive enough opportunity to show what they can do while keeping both men fresh. With that being the case, the time to give Mikko Koskinen his rope and allow him the opportunity to sink or swim is at hand.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.