Koskinen's 'brutal mistake' moves Oilers closer to rock bottom

Alexis Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow both had a goal and assist outing as the New York Rangers beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1.

EDMONTON -- Dave Tippett, like pretty much everyone else in this town, has seen enough of Mikko Koskinen.

The coach is done. You can tell by the quotes.

“Our goaltending wasn’t very good, and we didn’t get enough pucks to the net to get back in the game,” said the Edmonton Oilers head coach after a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, his team a tire fire burning towards the bottom of the standings.

As usual, Koskinen was just good enough to get you beat.

The big Finn has an ugly habit of letting in the first goal of the game, regardless of the degree of difficulty -- always has -- but Tippett couldn’t hold his tongue any longer after Koskinen opened Monday’s loss by shooting a puck over the glass just 15 seconds into the evening, then wandered to get a puck that could not be reached, leading to an easy Rangers goal and the requisite 1-0 Oilers deficit.

Tippett’s team has given up the first goal in 20 of 24 games, is on its worst losing streak of the season, and Koskinen opens the game by handing the Rangers a freebie. The coach didn’t hold back.

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

You can question how well Tippett’s team is really playing, but what you can’t doubt is how badly the bench sags when Koskinen allows an early softie, which has been his M.O. ever since he joined the Oilers.

Expect Stuart Skinner to get the start Wednesday in Toronto, as Edmonton tries to salvage a single win on this five-game roadie.

“There is a lot of adversity here,” Tippett said. “We’re learning a lot about our team. Going through a lot of injury issues, COVID issues. ... There’s lots to improve on.”

Mike Smith is hurt again, and no one is saying how long he’s out for. But the good fortune Edmonton enjoyed when their 38-year-old netminder was a top six or seven goalie in the NHL last season has flipped. Now, Smith can’t play three games in a row without getting hurt, a very foreseeable predicament for GM Ken Holland, who rolled the dice on an ageing goalie.

Holland lost that gamble badly, and unless this team gets someone who can stop a puck, the playoffs seem increasingly improbable.

“It’s been frustrating. I think it’s kind of affecting our play now,” defenceman Cody Ceci said of his team’s overall play. “It’s easy to play when you’re confident and winning. It gets tough when you’re going through something like this. Guys in and out of the lineup... It’s just a frustrating time, and we’re the only ones who can pull ourselves out of this.

“It’s definitely affecting the mood of the players. When you start getting down on yourself you get frustrated with teammates as well. I think a win would go a long way with this group.”

After losing six straight before Christmas, the Oilers have come out of the break with a winless four-game road trip (0-2-2) that closes out in Toronto on Wednesday, a game that has a capital L written all over it.

It is highly unlikely that Holland will fire Tippett without first making a move or two to jumpstart this lineup. But his team is showing every sign of a roster that needs some kind of a shakeup, and time is wasting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens have worse winning percentages since Dec. 3. That’s how bad it is in Edmonton right now.

The superstars aren’t playing to their level, and the guys below are not helpful enough offensively. Ryan McLeod was excellent on Monday, but the fact the Oilers have only drawn four powerplays four games into this road trip belies the fact that Edmonton’s forwards have not been nearly dangerous enough.

If no one is taking any penalties against you, it’s because they don’t have to.

“We’re trying to (draw penalties),” Tippett said. “But obviously not.”

Edmonton is 2-8-2 in their past 12 games, and worse yet, it’s difficult to see the path out. Like everyone, their lineup has been patchwork, but that’s not an excuse in today’s COVID-19 NHL.

This may not be rock bottom. But Tippett, and Koskinen, can see it from here.

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