Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s daily news bulletin, covering all the latest news and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the content you need in your lives.
We’re going to take a break from looking at the bleak COVID-19 situation in the NHL currently and instead focus on the Edmonton Oilers and their ongoing goaltending issues in today’s Inside The Box because, quite frankly, there is a lot to dive into when it comes to this subject.
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One of the biggest questions facing the Edmonton Oilers heading into the 2020-21 NHL season was their goaltending, something we looked at in our Season Preview, and whether or not it was good or even adequate to get the job done and help guide this team to the postseason. After all, the Oilers would be competing in an ultra-competitive North Division with only four teams making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let’s also not forget that Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland opted to re-sign veteran goalie Mike Smith in the offseason and stick with a tandem of Smith and Mikko Koskinen, rather than go out and pursue one of the plethora of elite netminders that were available in Free Agency. It was a questionable decision and one that looked even more puzzling after North Division rivals the Calgary Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million contract while the Vancouver Canucks signed Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby to a two-year $8,600,000 contract.
How do you solve a problem like the Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending?
So, how has it worked out for the Edmonton Oilers? Well, the short answer is not very well when you look at the basic stats and even some of the more intricate underlying ones. For instance, they are currently 6-6-0 on the year and a large part of the reason why they are at .500 is because of bad goaltending and poor play on the backend. They also rank seventh in Goals For Per Game (3.50) in the NHL, which is obviously good, but yet they rank 26th in Goals Against Per Game, averaging 3.58 goals each night.
And therein lies the rub. The Oilers will always be in games and have a chance to win given the fact that they boast two of the best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who can combine to put this team on their back and drag them over the finishing line no matter how bad the defense or the goaltending. That was on full display on Sunday when they combined for 11 points (1 G, 10 A) to beat the lowly Ottawa Senators 8-5, with the Sens still managing to light the lamp five times despite being ranked 26th in Goals For Per Game (2.40).
However, simply trying to outscore the opponent on a nightly basis isn’t conducive to success and that is especially the case in the postseason, as we’ve seen with the Toronto Maple Leafs time and time again. You need good defense and elite goaltending in order to succeed in the NHL and eventually win championships, while McDavid and Draisaitl need more support and more help from their team all over the ice, but especially on the backend and between the pipes.
I mean, the Oilers currently have an Expected Goals Against of 16.3, which is a lot higher than the league average of 9.3. They have allowed 29 goals against at 5-on-5 and have allowed 161 scoring chances against and 56 high-danger scoring chances against, which is a recipe for disaster when you haven’t got great goaltending.
As the great Pete Campbell in Mad Men once said, it’s “Not great Bob, not great.” And, it isn’t going to get any better for the Edmonton Oilers unless they do something drastic. I mean, Mike Smith is on Long-Term Injured Reserve, Mikko Koskinen is 5-6-0 with a 3.31 Goals Against Average and a .897 Save Percentage, while both Troy Grosenick and Stuart Skinner are largely untested in the NHL.
Therefore, it is about time Ken Holland rights his wrongs from the offseason and attempt to placate both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl by giving them the help they need in the form of a legit No. starter. The price won’t be cheap but, given that McDavid has a grand total of 17 postseason contests in six years under his belt, any price will be worth paying in order to ensure that an absolute generational talent and arguably one of the most naturally-gifted players to enter the league since Wayne Gretzky isn’t wasted or even driven out of this market due to a lack of success.
I mentioned a few weeks ago the possibility of the Buffalo Sabres going all out to acquire Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who has been on the trading block, and that would certainly work for the Edmonton Oilers who need an elite starter between the pipes in order to help them win and become a legit contender in the postseason. After all, you can’t win without great goaltending and the front office owe it to their two stars to now go out and finally rectify a fatal flaw that has been allowed to fester and hold this team back for far too long.
It has been a rough decade for the New Jersey Devils, but they do boast eight high-end prospects that all have high ceilings.