Crease competition

Crease competition

By: Jamie Umbach –

The blue paint is going to be crowded.

Eight seasons ago with the New York Islanders, goaltenders Al Montoya and Mikko Koskinen earned time between the pipes as part of a crease roulette that included six netminders.

Flash forward to this year’s Oilers Main Camp, the pair are frontrunners to secure the solitary back-up spot behind mainstay Cam Talbot when the puck drops on the 2018-19 NHL season against the New Jersey Devils in Gothenburg, Sweden on Oct. 6.

“There’s a lot of competition with all the goalies we have here – six or seven,” former SKA St. Petersburg netminder Koskinen said on Sunday.

“Everyone wants to be the number-one guy.”

The competition to be one of two goalies on the 23-man opening day roster next month when the Oilers begin the season overseas will be fierce.

“Expectations in every NHL locker room are the same,” Montoya, a veteran NHL netminder, added. “They expect you to give your best every night, whether it’s a practice or a game.”

Koskinen, who stands at a menacing 6-foot-7 and even higher on the ice, presents the Oilers forwards with the intimidating task trying to find an open corner to shoot on during Main Camp practices and scrimmages.

“Yeah, he’s a big goalie,” Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira said of the Finnish netminder. “Definitely when you take a look up and you’re about to shoot, it definitely makes it a big harder and you try to find those holes. But he’s been awesome so far and I’m lucky he’s been in my group.”

Size wasn’t the only factor in the Oilers feeling comfortable about bringing in the Vantaa, Finland native on a one-year contract to compete for a spot in the team’s goaltending tandem. A career year with SKA, posting a 22-4-1 record, .937 save percentage and 1.57 goals-against average, spoke for itself.

Making the transition to the smaller ice surface in the NHL doesn’t seem to be a problem for the 30-year-old in the crease.

“I think it’s going to fit well here,” Koskinen said of his playstyle. “I try to play a simple game and not overplay too much and try to stay calm.”

Koskinen is enjoying keeping his focus on a more condensed Oilers Main Camp schedule after experiencing the rigours of KHL training camps.

“It’s night and day,” Koskinen said of the differences. “You can’t compare these camps to what I’ve been through the past five years. Here you can stay three hours a day at the rink, there you can do three practices in a day that start at 6:00 AM and go to 8:00 PM.”

Montoya, a nine-season NHL veteran, comes into camp with a clean bill of health ready to make an impact after missing two months due to a concussion before being acquired by the Oilers from the Montreal Canadiens in early January.

“Last year was tough,” the 33-year-old said, citing his injury. “It was one of my tougher years in that regard. But at the same time, I took care of myself this summer. If you have a concussion or you’re banged up, people think it’s black and white. It’s not. Especially coming in through a trade after that and coming in here, I felt that I had some good moments and that’s something I’m going to build off.

“The two years prior to that I helped teams go to the playoffs, so for me it doesn’t change. I know I can win in this league.”

The Chicago, IL product made an almost immediate impact in his first on-ice opportunity as an Oiler, making 19 saves and earning the win in relief of Talbot in a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on a week after being dealt from the Canadiens.

Montoya is putting last season behind him after working from the ground up after his concussion to come into camp more prepared than ever.

“When you have an injury like I did, you’re not able to go ride the bike or train the body,” Montoya said. “In this league when you go zero to 100, which is basically what I did, there’s compensations all along the way. So for me it was going back to ground zero and starting from a base and feeling great about myself. That’s what I’ve done and it’s translating on the ice.

As for the injection of competition with the signing of Koskinen, business is business.

“The organization has to do what it has to do,” Montoya said. “This league is filled with great goalies, and like I said my record speaks for itself. I’m an NHL goalie and that’s all I’m focused on – playing my game and being ready when I’m called upon.

“I know what’s expected. This organization welcomed me and my family with open arms and I couldn’t thank them enough. I just have to go out there and play.”