Mikko Koskinen, king of the back-to-backs, leads Edmonton Oilers into Montreal

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Game Day 37: Edmonton at Montreal

Tonight the Edmonton Oilers begin to deal with the fallout from last week’s postponement of a 3-game series in Montreal. Fortunately for them, so too do the Canadiens.

For the visiting Oilers, the quick return trip to La Belle Province delays by one day their return home from what is now a 10-day eastern road trip. After spending the first 6 days in “hurry up and wait” mode, the Oilers will close out the trip with 3 games in 4 days, ending with the back-to-back set in Canada’s two largest cities that was initially scheduled, in reverse order, for last Friday and Saturday.

For the home team the challenges are different, and daunting. The club hasn’t played a game since Mar 20, and had just a single practice on Monday after their facilities were reopened after last week’s COVID scare. They’ll be plenty rested, possibly a little rusted. But whatever energy reserves they’ve built up will be severely tested in the next 6 weeks, when the club will play 25 games in just 43 days. Not once will they have more than one day off between games, and they’ll have six back-to-backs during that span. The last of those will be against the Oilers on May 10-11 as the squads make up the other two games from last week’s postponed set.


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Tonight the Oilers hope to continue a lengthy run of success in back-to-back contests during the Dave Tippett era, which now spans 107 games over two regular seasons. In that span the Oilers are a startling 12-2-0 in the second game of back-to-backs, including 5-1-0 in the current campaign.

The key to that has been netminding, with current #2 stopper Mikko Koskinen shining brightly in those situations. Check out this game-by-game breakdown:

It’s clear that Koskinen has become Tippett’s go-to in these situations, and with good reason. The big Finn has held the Oil in more than a few back-to-backs where the team lost the territorial battle but won the war on the scoreboard. That includes 4 consecutive outings including his first 3 in 2021 where he faced 40+ shots and held the opposition to 1 or 2 goals, with the Oilers winning each.

As good as he was in 2019-20, Koskinen has raised the stakes in 2021, starting five back-to-backs with a record of 4-1-0, recording a save percentage of .955 and a goals against of just 1.60. Tonight will close out the fifth back-to-back since Mike Smith returned on Feb 08, and each time Tippett has gone with Smith in the first game, and with great success too (5-0-0, 9 goals against, .935 save percentage).

It came as no surprise to this observer that Smith was given the start in Toronto last night on one day’s rest, and he responded brilliantly with a first star performance. Indeed, the 39-year-old was the principle reason the Oilers got out of Dodge with 3 of a possible 4 standings points against the first-place Maple Leafs. Now the mantle turns to Koskinen who seemingly will be in his element with a tired team in front of him.


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Between the two of them, Koskinen and Smith have played the back end of 13 back-to-backs over the past two seasons, and have held the opposition to 3 goals or fewer every single time. Only on the 2 occasions when the Oilers themselves got held to 0 or 1 goal did the club suffer a loss.

Tonight the chore again falls to Koskinen, and expect a similar Smith-then-Koskinen split of this weekend’s back-to-back vs. Calgary and Vancouver in Edmonton. If it ain’t broke…

Darnell Nurse data dump

While some observers continue to question whether last night’s overtime hero is a “true #1 defenceman”, allow me to present without further comment the following, pruned from various statistical listings of NHL blueliners:

  • Time on ice: 924:46 — 1st
  • Even-strength time on ice: 781:34 — 1st
  • TOi/GP: 25:41 — 4th
  • EV TOi/GP: 21:43 — 4th
  • 12 goals — 1st
  • 27 points — T-6th
  • 12 even-strength goals — 1st (ahead by 4)
  • 23 even-strength points — 1st (ahead by 4)
  • +22 plus/minus — 2nd
  • 40 PiM — 5th
  • 93 shots — 4th
  • 12.9% shooting percentage — 2nd among D with 20 or more shots

Tonight’s line-up

Dave Tippett at this morning’s avail, as perSportsnet‘s Mark Spector:

“Koskinen starts, and we’ll probably go back with the same lineup as last night.”

We’ve refined our own line-up card to show Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 2LW and Kyle Turris at 2C based on their actual deployment last night. Not impossible that the coach may shake up the lines by splitting up the power duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who had plenty of issues last night, but at this distance that is more likely to be an in-game adjustment if it gets made at all.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Player grades from Oilers’ OT win over Leafs

McCURDY: Turris gets push into top 6, Puljujarvi to first-unit PP

LEAVINS: Concerning news on Dylan Holloway — 9 Things

McCURDY: Player Grades from Oilers’ OT loss vs Leafs

STAPLES: In praise of Gaetan Haas, protector of the defensive slot

McCURDY: Quarantine time for incoming players cut from two weeks to 7 days

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy


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