For a fan base that has spent the past few days howling over what bad goaltending can do to a team, Mikko Koskinen issued a reminder of what happens when the opposite is true.
The score sheet says Koskinen made 44 saves on 47 Florida shots Saturday, but Natural Stat Trick tallied the high danger scoring chances at 21-12 in favour of the Panthers. That puts a fine point on Koskinen’s afternoon, as the Edmonton Oilers snuck out of Florida with a 4-3 regulation win just days after they’d outplayed Tampa and lost on a few iffy goals.
“Today, it was my day,” said Koskinen, 6-0-1 in his last seven starts. He earned a day like this one, where a few shots from the NHL’s highest powered offence found his glove, pads or even mask, rather than finding their way into the net. “Wins are the only thing that I’m counting here, and it was a big win for us. And a big game tomorrow (in Raleigh).”
The subtext on Saturday came from Derek Ryan, who found more ice time when centreman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins left with what looked like a shoulder injury in the first period. All Ryan did with that extra responsibility is score a hat trick — the first of his career at age 35.
“Didn’t plan on getting my first hat trick in the NHL at the ripe old age of 35, but it feels pretty good,” said Ryan. “Yeah, just feels good.”
Ryan is that depth guy that an NHL locker room loves to see pop a few. He opened the scoring on a nice two-on-one saucer pass from Warren Foegele, blasted off a two-on-one over Sergei Bobrovsky’s glove, and then tapped home a perfect pass from Evander Kane to complete the hatty, affording Edmonton a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes.
His teammates were ecstatic.
“Oh yeah, they were they were super happy,” chuckled Koskinen. “Almost too happy after the second period. He should have saved the last goal for the third.”
New head coach Jay Woodcroft has found a way to engage certain players, like Ryan, rugged defenceman Markus Niemelainen and forward Ryan McLeod. The latter two have really come on in the last two weeks, with Niemelainen adding a completely new and physical layer to Edmonton’s defence, while McLeod has gained some assertiveness and confidence, two welcome additions to his big, fast frame.
Saturday, it was the old man’s turn however, to show that he can contribute at 13 and 14 minutes per night, as opposed to seven and sometimes six under the former staff.
“Yeah, confidence is moving for sure,” said Ryan, the first University of Alberta Golden Bear grad to score an NHL hat trick. “When you say a little bit more opportunity, I think it’s a lot more opportunity — that’s definitely translated into some confidence in myself and the line I’ve been playing on.
“It’s hard to get your momentum, your rhythm going in the game (at seven minutes). Woody’s getting me out there in key situations and yeah, I’m enjoying it.”
Ryan Lomberg rode Nugent-Hopkins out along the boards in the first period, a clean but hard hit that injured the Oilers centre. The team called it an “upper body injury,” but it looked like a shoulder injury, and not good news for an important piece of this lineup.
It’s funny — Edmonton held Tampa to just 23 shots and lost 5-3 on Wednesday. Three days later, they get outshot 47-22 and win.
As for Koskinen, when kept in a role where he shares the net, the big Finn has shown he can win games. His save percentage crawled to .901 with this stellar performance, but his record is more than respectable at 18-8-2.
Like he said earlier, “Wins are the only thing that I’m counting here.”
“For him to turn in a performance like that today, against a pretty good hockey team that we took two points from in their building — we needed it and he was excellent,” marvelled Woodcroft. “That’s a really good hockey team. They’re at where they’re at (third overall in the NHL) for a reason. They lead the NHL in goals for a reason.”
Mike Smith will likely start Sunday in Raleigh against the NHL’s No. 2 club, the Carolina Hurricanes, but you can pencil in Koskinen for one or both of the final two starts on this trip in Philadelphia and Chicago.
As for the rest of the team, it was survival mode at times, down to 10 forwards against a Panthers club that comes in waves. Edmonton’s young defence is still too soft down low, Evan Bouchard in particular. As a group they could use some snarl in front of their netminder.
With Duncan Keith, out the kids are getting their ice time, but between Philip Broberg (7:12 Saturday), William Lagesson (11:20), Bouchard (12:21) and Niemelainen (13:50), it’s the big Finn that has stepped in alongside Bouchard as two kids who will still be playing once everyone is healthy.