Once the Edmonton Oilers finally activated Mike Smith off the injured reserve, most people assumed a big problem would be solved and the team would have its answer in net. That just doesn’t seem like the case, as he’s older, it’s much harder to repeat a performance like the one he had last season, at any age, and injuries are starting to catch up with him.
When activating Smith off the injured reserve, it made sense initially to send Stuart Skinner down to the American Hockey League (AHL) because he is still waivers exempt (“3 goalies on the move as Edmonton Oilers make room for Mike Smith’s return”, Edmonton Journal, Dec. 29, 2021). It was imagined that the pieces would seemingly fall back into place in net like they had last season upon Smith’s return. That wasn’t the case this time around.
It is the second season in a row for the Oilers that Smith had missed a significant amount of time near the start of the season due to an injury. This time it was more severe and he suffered setbacks. Mikko Koskinen was able to sink back into a backup role where he has statistically played better with more rest. But with an injury after just his second game back, serious concerns surround the Oilers’ crease and banking on Koskinen to repeatedly hold it down just won’t work.
Oilers’ Mistake in Not Recalling Skinner Immediately
This time, since Smith was only listed as day-to-day, a move that saw Ilya Konovalov recalled and slotted in a backup role on an emergency basis was all the Oilers were permitted to do on such short notice. I understand that for the second half of a back to back when the Smith news broke that day, but the Oilers then had two days to make a move and recall Skinner from the AHL.
With the Oilers playing one game against the Ottawa Senators between tomorrow and Jan. 18, would it not have made a ton of sense to shut Smith down for one more day and allow him to be eligible to go on the injured reserve? With a bit of extra time, that could ensure he comes back 100 percent, and doesn’t injure himself immediately again. It would have allowed the Oilers to recall Skinner before their game against the New York Rangers, and have him start. In not doing so, we saw the disaster that Koskinen showed, even leading to being called out postgame by Dave Tippett, saying “Our goaltender wasn’t very good” and continuing on to say “it was a brutal mistake.”
Skinner Has Had the Best Numbers
Let’s break down the numbers of all three of the goalies who have played games this season for the Oilers. Before we get into it though, wins and goals-against average (GAA) mean much less than stats like save percentage (SV%), quality start percentage (QS%), and goals saved above average (GSAA) when looking at how a goaltender has an impact on his team. Wins and GAA are more dependent on how many goals the team that is in front of him scores on any given night, and GAA can also be attributed to bad positioning or defensive play in front of him.
Wins & Goals-Against Average
Though many look at wins as a good indication of what a goaltender has done for his team, often don’t look past that. They see Koskinen with a 12-7-1 record and think he has won a good amount of games for the Oilers. He did have a 12-2-0 record when the team was scoring over four goals a night in support. Now that the scoring has dried up a bit with all the players in and out of the lineup, he has gone 0-5-1, not being able to hold the Oilers in low-scoring games.
Skinner and Smith are a combined 6-6-1, Smith going 2-1-1 and Skinner going 4-5-0. The Oilers’ best goaltender has the worst win/loss record, an indication of how the team has played in front of him. The GAA still has some indication of how the goalie has played, and by far, Skinner has the best numbers when it comes to that. He has a 2.70 GAA, while Koskinen has a 3.19 GAA with a good sample size, and Smith has 3.91 GAA with a very small sample size. No goaltender in today’s game with over a 3.00 GAA on a contending team should be starting in net. It’s not sustainable to be able to win, and once playoff time comes, there’s no chance.
SV% is a better indicator of what the goaltender has done behind a team. This season so far, the league average for SV% is .910. Skinner currently holds a .916 SV%, the only one of the three goalies for the Oilers with a SV% even close to .910. Once again, Koskinen has given a good indication of his overall stats with a large sample size, posting only a .900 SV% through 20 games. Smith is even worse, and the last two starts didn’t help him, as his SV% on the season in a sub-.900 (.897 SV%).
Quality Start Percentage & Goals Saved Above Average
As for QS% and GSAA for all three of the goalies. QS% is defined as a start where a goalie’s SV% is above league average or at least .885 in games with less than 20 shots faced. Under .500 QS% is considered bad, while .530 is league average. Koskinen has a .368 QS%, Smith has .400, and Skinner has .444. None are good and all well below league average, but again, by far Skinner has the best numbers here.
GSAA is defined as the goals a goalie prevented given his SV% and shots faced compared to the league average SV% on the same number of shots faced. That being said, above zero is good and it means the goalie has prevented more goals than allowed. Skinner is the only goalie sitting with a positive GSAA of 1.9. The more games that are played, this number has a better chance of going up if consistent play is maintained. The same goes for consistently bad play. Koskinen has a -6.1 GSAA already and Smith has a -2.3 in just five games.
The Oilers are not going to start Konovalov unless Koskinen, Smith and Skinner are all unavailable. He’s in a position to be an emergency backup for the team, but he is fourth string. They should send Konovalov back down to the AHL, recall Skinner, and have him start games moving forward, regardless of if Smith is healthy or not. Skinner has been the best goalie at a time when the Oilers have really struggled. New blood in the lineup could help spark the team once again and get them back in the win column.
There has seemed like there’s just more confidence in front of Skinner at this point, and on a slide like this, confidence is very important. You can’t go into a game feeling like you need to score a ton of goals to win. That creates the chances coming back against the Oilers because the team as a whole are taking more chances offensively. Knowing your goaltender can make the big save, steal a game, or keep your team in the game is huge.
Whether it’s trading a goaltender away or demoting one, at least when you look at the three goaltenders for the Oilers this season, Skinner is most deserving of a spot on the team starting games. It is time to look to the future and leave the shortcomings of the past in the past.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.
You can find more of his work here.