The Edmonton Oilers, 2-8-2 in their past 12 and clinging to the second wild-card spot in the West, are nearing crisis mode. They’re supposed to be a hopeful contender, but now a lot of questions are being asked about their make-up and what they can do to fix their situation.
The team has lacked depth scoring in this stretch, a problem that isn’t new here. Coach Dave Tippett’s status is uncertain as he appears to be on the hot seat. But the area most in the spotlight right now is with the goaltending.
Following Monday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, in which Koskinen made a couple of critical errors including a misplayed puck that led to the game’s opening goal, Tippett voiced his frustration with the goalie.
“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.”
“Our goaltending wasn’t very good, and we didn’t get enough pucks to the net to get back in the game.”
On Tuesday, speaking to Finnish reporter Tommi Seppala, Koskinen responded to criticism from Tippett and members of the media.
“It’s not nice for anybody to be thrown under the bus. But this is how it goes in this business,” Koskinen told Seppala in Finnish. “When the team loses, it’s either the coach or goalie who gets sacrificed. I have to be better but at the same time we scored seven goals in my last six losses. I can’t score goals. It’s not only about goaltending when it comes to winning and losing. Everybody has to better from now on and we will be. We’re not this bad.”
Koskinen, who’s taken on more of a No. 1 role than planned this season with Mike Smith injured, had a good start. He won 12 of his first 14 games, and posted a .914 save percentage through Dec. 1.
But as the team’s offence has dried up, the margin for error has thinned. The Oilers have scored just 29 times in these 12 games, which is nearly a goal less than expected over this stretch. The goalies have also allowed about a goal more than expected per game, and Koskinen’s save percentage has dipped to .866 in his past six appearances.
After such a strong start for the team elevated expectations, this current slump is turning up the temperature around them.
“I didn’t get critics early on in the season, but now it’s all over because I’ve lost six games in row,” Koskinen said. “Everybody gets upset because in this market everything we do is under the microscope. Every goal and mistake is being analyzed carefully. People care and there’s a lot of passion about the Oilers in this market. It’s just the way it is. We have to be better.”
After Wednesday’s game in Toronto, the Oilers have one scheduled game over the next 12 days. It’s at that time GM Ken Holland may consider making some kind of move to start turning this team back in the right direction, whether it’s with the coach or player personnel.
But while Koskinen is taking the brunt of the criticism during this slide, all the underlying numbers and on-ice indications are that this is a team with more than one issue. Add in some bad luck plaguing them along the way and it’s pretty close to rock bottom right now for the Oilers.
“We haven’t drawn penalties like earlier and it feels like the opponent scores on every power play right now,” Koskinen told Seppala. “We should play better 5-on-5 and score more goals. Goaltending has not been good on a nightly basis either. Like I said, everybody has to be better, we’re not that bad.”
Tippett addressed the issue after Wednesday’s morning skate.
“The question (asked) was (about) the start of the game. The whole thing was taken out of context,” Tippett said. “We’re talking about starting the game. The first five minutes of the game, not giving up the first goal. That’s what it was. Mikko made some good saves in that game. He hung around the game. But it was the start of the game, we’re trying to get off to a good start. That’s the part (you’re) getting emotional about.”