Edmonton hoping Mike Smith brings stability, balance back to Oilers net

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith. (David Becker / AP)

EDMONTON -- The saviour is almost 39 years old and hasn’t played a game since March. But Mike Smith has finally arrived, felled by injury prior to the start of the season, and the Edmonton Oilers are hoping he is the answer to their clunky goaltending department.

“I feel great. I’m excited,” said Smith, who is believed to have suffered an undisclosed injury while stretching prior to the season. “It was kind of a freak thing, but it gave me a couple of extra weeks to get my feet under me. Real excited to get back in the net tonight.”

Indeed, Smith starts in goal versus the Senators tonight in the first of back-to-back games in Ottawa. If he can get back to the level he was between Jan. 1 and the end of last season — when he was tied for third in the league in wins (12) and had a .911 save percentage — he’ll surely make Koskinen better, and stabilize a position that hasn’t been very good for Edmonton.

Just giving Koskinen a break can’t hurt. He has played 708 minutes this season, more than 100 more than the next NHL goalie (Anaheim’s John Gibson).

“Both of our goaltenders played better last year when they were going two-and-two (two starts each),” head coach Dave Tippett said. “I’d like to get back to a little rhythm. We’d like to see our goals-against come down, and that’s not all on the goaltending. There are times when our team needs to play better in front of the goalies.”

We roasted Koskinen here after he let in six versus Calgary on Saturday night. His numbers are awful -- an .889 save percentage and a 3.55 goals-against average -- but in fairness, he’s been overworked.

“We put a guy in a tough situation, playing that many minutes early in the season without any training camp,” Tippett said.

“In a shortened camp, to have to come in and play that many games in a row, it’s significant,” added Smith.

Lining ‘Em Up

Tippett said they had some lineup decisions to make after the morning skate.

Gaetan Haas did not skate and is injured, Ethan Bear is still injured, Tyler Ennis has been activated and we know Smith is starting in goal. Here’s our best guess on lines:

Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Puljujarvi
Kahun, Draisaitl, Yamamoto
Neal, Turris, Kassian
Ennis, Khaira, Archibald

Nurse, Barrie
Lagesson, Larsson
K. Russell, Bouchard


Here are the expected lines for Ottawa:

Tkachuk, Norris, Dadonov
Stutzle, Tierney, C.Brown
Paul, White, Batherson
Galchenyuk, Stepan, Watson

Chabot, Zaitsev
Reilly, Zub
Brannstrom, Gudbranson


Flat Kassian

Zack Kassian has incurred only two minor penalties this season. Four lousy minutes -- a pair of minors -- and he hasn’t drawn a penalty yet this season according to NHL.com.

His last fight came in January of last season against Matthew Tkachuk, while the Calgary winger has been quite active, dropping the mitts six times since that bout with Kassian, according to HockeyFights.com.

The big Oilers winger has been largely ineffective through the Qualifying Round last summer and into this season, and much of that is because he’s not playing that physical game that brings fights, and some penalties, his way. It might be nigh for impossible for Kassian to truly earn his $3.2 million salary, a contract issued before the new NHL economy, but if he isn’t getting under the other team’s skin, then it won’t even be close.

“We’d like to see him get more engaged in games. That's kind of an understatement,” allowed Tippett, in a telling quote issued Monday morning.

Kassian began the year on Connor McDavid’s right wing, but has descended to the third line. He has a goal and two assists in a dozen games, and just 12 shots on net. He is credited with 10.8 hits per 60 minutes, but there is simply something missing in a player who is going to be woefully overpaid if he does not find a way to become more of a factor.

The Oilers want the old Zack Kassian back. Plain and simple.

A Full Net

What did Mike Smith see while watching his team play from the Injured Reserve list?

“We can score, but we have a little difficulty keeping it out of our net,” the returning netminder said. “It’s about consistency … and whatever team I’ve been on consistency is the thing that separates you from being a mediocre team to a being really good playoff team every season.

“We know we can score,” he continued, “it’s the balance of knowing when to go, knowing what time it is in the game, what the score is, and managing the clock a lot better than we have.

“All those things will transfer into more consistent play. Details matter.”

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