EDMONTON — The quote of the day came at Friday’s morning skate, when Dave Tippett was asked about a 6-3 win over Philadelphia two days before. It was two points in the bank, sure, but those points were the only redeeming feature for a head coach who watched his team play a loose, sloppy game, won on a five-point night by Connor McDavid.
“The goal,” began Tippett, “is a lot bigger than winning on a Wednesday night, seventh game of the year. The goal is to be much better and be a playoff team.
“To win a game that your goaltender steals or your star player has five points, it all looks fancy on the scoreboard but those two points don’t earn you the right to be a playoff team,” he said. “It’s how you play over 82 games and how you build your team that earns you that right.”
Later that Friday evening, the Detroit Red Wings were in town for Game 8 of the young season — a hard-fought, responsibly-played 2-1 win for Edmonton. McDavid went pointless and the Oilers took just one minor penalty all night, their overall game vastly improved.
That performance, after the one two days previous, left the Oilers at 7-1.
Are they for real? Stay tuned…
The Big Takeaway
After watching goaltender Mikko Koskinen stumble down the stretch last year, his three-year, $13.5-million deal set to begin only this season, Oilers fans emitted a collective “Gulp!” at the prospects of their goaltending this season and beyond.
Well, four starts in, Koskinen has a .934 save percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average, and stopped 25 of 26 shots Friday, beaten only by a deflected puck. He was fabulous in wins over the Flyers and Red Wings this week, coming back to the NHL for his second full season after honing his craft back home in Finland.
Has the work he put in during the summer paid off?
“It’s hard to say. It’s your guys’ job to talk about that,” said the quiet, six-foot-seven giant. “The main thing for myself is I put everything out there this summer and that builds confidence.”
They always say that NHL shooters get a book on a goalie after he has made a couple of tours through the league. But for Koskinen, coming back to a familiar situation in Edmonton has worked to his advantage.
“Of course. It really helps a lot — I started from zero (last season),” he said of his NHL experience (four games with the Islanders in 2010-11). “I practiced all summer in a small rink and I was more ready this year.”
The Oilers’ goaltending was their No. 1 question mark this season, considering the body of Koskinen’s work last season and the injury history of co-starter Mike Smith. If Koskinen can maintain this level of play, allowing Smith to play less and stay healthier, it’s a game changer in Edmonton.
Goaltending was supposed to be a weakness here. If it becomes a strength, it could be time to reassess this team’s chances.
• Defenceman Ethan Bear scored again — his second in as many nights –— and the Oilers look to have really found something here. Bear was a fifth-round pick back in 2015 who was not expected to crack the NHL team this year, or maybe ever. Instead, he looks like a confident, offensively-skilled, slick-passing D-man who could play the next decade in the league.
“I love this game so much. I could talk hockey for hours, and watch videos and highlights for days. I love this game,” Bear said after logging 21:40 of ice time, the third-straight game he’s been around 22 minutes played. “Every game you’re put in different situations, and the ones you don’t do well in, you watch them, over and over. Try and learn from them.”
“His confidence level is out of this league,” Koskinen said of Bear. “He’s doing everything right. It’s great to watch him right now.”
• James Neal scored again, his ninth of the season. He is the first Oiler with nine goals in the first eight games of a season since Glenn Anderson turned the trick in the fall of 1987.
He had 40 goals back in the 2011-12 season with Pittsburgh. That season he had six goals in his first eight games, scoring No. 9 in Game 12.
With nine goals on Oct. 18, does he feel the same mojo?
“You don’t want to jinx yourself,” he smiled, “but I feel really confident. I feel like I’ve got my swagger back, my legs back. I had lots of chances tonight.”
Oilers hit the road for a pair in the Central Division, at Winnipeg (Sunday) and Minnesota (Tuesday).