Oilers must improve team defence to have success with Smith, Koskinen

February 16, 2021 0 By boss


EDMONTON — The knee-jerk play is to blame the goalies. The other guys got more saves than us, so it must be about goaltending.

Connor Hellebuyck faced 45 shots and let in five, while the one-two punch of Mike Smith (pulled after four goals on 11 shots) and Mikko Koskinen faced 24 shots and let in six.

So, there are two ways to go here: An Oilers fan can lament the fact they don’t have a Vezina calibre goalie, as the Winnipeg Jets do. Or, they can ask how a team that shut out the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on the road last week — barely giving up five decent scoring chances the entire game — can come out the next game and put on a defensive display like the one the Oilers did on Monday at home?

“Anytime you give up six, it’s obviously not a great night,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie. “We left Smitty out to dry there early and we tried to claw back, but it was just not a good enough defensive game from us, and we just made some mistakes that cost us.”

Look, this was a wildly entertaining game. And no one disputes the fact that Hellebuyck stole more goals away from the Oilers than vice versa.

In Smith and Koskinen, the Oilers have enough goaltending to support a good defensive effort. What they don’t have, most of the time, is a goalie who can flat out steal a game when Edmonton gets out-chanced — the way Hellebuyck did for his Jets on Monday.

So, here are your options, Oilers fan: Stand around and wait until you can get your hands on a vastly superior goalie — something GM Ken Holland should have his eyes open for at all times, but something that may not happen for months or years.

Or, ask your team to play better in front of the goalies you have.

“You make some mistakes and they end up in the back of our net, so you’re chasing the game,” lamented head coach Dave Tippett. “The disappointing thing about that is, we got ourselves back in the game, then we gave it away again.”

Sometimes teams can salvage one of these games with a strong third period. Not Edmonton. Not on this wide open, firewagon night.

Tippett was talking about Dominik Kahun, who made the last significant defensive error in this game, after the Oilers had clawed back to make it 5-5. Just past the six-minute mark of the third period, he coughed a puck up at his own blue line, the kind of error that can’t be made in the third period of a tied game.

It doesn’t matter whether the score is 1-1 or 5-5 — those mistakes lose you games. And despite everything that went on before his gaffe, the score was tied in the third period. That mistake cost Edmonton this game — don’t at me.

“We tied it up and we just gave it right back to them,” Barrie said. “We gave up six goals and you’re not going to win many games when you give up six. That’s got to be our focus. We want to be a fun team to watch an exciting team and score some goals, but we also want to be able to lock it down.”

Koskinen let in two goals, both close-in deflections as the Oilers defence was manhandled down low. If you’re blaming the goalies for tips in the slot, then we can’t help you.

On the last one, Blake Wheeler was left untouched by young Evan Bouchard as he tipped home the winner past a chanceless Koskinen. It’s a learning curve with a good young defenceman like Bouchard, but if you want to play a rookie defenceman, then you’re going to have to stomach goals like this one.

The whole play left a foul taste in Tippett’s mouth.

“We turned the puck over at the defensive blue line, when it should have come out. and then we didn’t defend very well in front of the net,” he said. “It wasn’t a lull. We made two mistakes and it was in the back of our net.”

In the morning, Leon Draisaitl spoke about why he has improved his defensive game:

“Because we weren’t winning the last couple of years,” he said. “Clearly, something needed to change.”

Draisaitl gets it. Eventually, his teammates will too.


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