Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen defying odds in breakthrough season

Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen defying odds in breakthrough season

By: Mark Spector – Sportsnet.ca

It’s the strangest thing about Mikko Koskinen’s goal stick. Something we’ve never seen before.

There is no knob on it.

That’s right. A goalie, with no giant, white, made-out-of-hockey-tape knob on his stick. Just a few wraps, but hardly even a bump at the end of the shaft.

Like, whoever heard of such a thing?

“Can’t say I’ve ever seen that,” said Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford.

“Boy, that’s a good question,” said Kevin Woodley of InGoal Magazine.

So, Mikko? What’s the competitive edge here? Why so innovative? So unique?

“It’s because I’m too lazy to do it. That’s the only reason,” said Koskinen. “I don’t have the time to do it every game.”

Washington’s Braden Holtby uses three-quarters of a roll of tape at the end of his shaft. But Koskinen doesn’t use the poke check the way Holtby does, so he’s knob neutral.

“I don’t do poke checks too often, so I haven’t lost my stick too often.”

OK, so goalies are supposed to be a little bit weird. But within the sphere of goaltending — inside the weird — there are certain tenets from which no goalie strays. Or so it seems.

One of those tenets is, we thought, a big ball of tape at the end of your goal stick. The other is, by the time you hit 30, either you can play or you can’t.

That’s another rule that Koskinen has broken.

Let’s face it: When then-Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli gave Koskinen that ridiculous three-year, $13.5 million deal just days before he was fired last spring, there were a lot of reasons why the hockey world just could not fathom why such a deal was bestowed upon Koskinen.

The biggest reason was, he just wasn’t that great a goalie. He’d played one OK season in Edmonton, positing a .906 saves percentage, but his resume was nowhere close to commanding that kind of money, and his glove hand was leaky.

But that’s where Koskinen breaks the mould again. Somewhere, in a summer that saw him turn 31, Koskinen’s game improved tremendously.

To the point where, if he keeps it up this season and was an unrestricted free agent at the end, you might just consider paying him, say, around $4.5 million.

“I don’t want to compare anymore, last year and this year. It is a new season, a different story,” said Koskinen, who is as tall (six-foot-seven) as he is soft spoken. “It’s your guys’ job to do the comparing, if you guys want.”

“OK,” we ask. “What are the parts of your game that have improved the most?”

(As we ask, we’re thinking, “Glove hand. Glove hand. Glove hand.”)

“I think there have been many improvements, but it’s tough to say one thing,” Koskinen said. “Everything is kind of like a small pieces, and when you put those small pieces together the whole game is improving. It is really tough to say something big or phenomenal for you guys. It’s the small things that have come together.”

In the end, those pieces have added up to a 2.52 goals against average, a .921 saves percentage, and most importantly, a 10-2-2 record. Somehow, against all odds, the 31-year-old goalie has been quite an upgrade from the 30-year-old.

More pointedly, Koskinen’s glove hand — a target for shooters last season — is now better than adequate.

“It wasn’t that he had a bad glove,” said Woodley, “it just wasn’t good enough to overcome some of the other elements that left him off angle and behind on plays last season. He didn’t give himself a chance to use his glove, because he was late to positions at times. That left him off angle, not set and not square as those shots were coming. That makes it really hard to use your glove effectively.”

Woodley was right. Last season, while pucks were sizzling past Koskinen’s glove at a rapid pace, he said it was about footwork and positioning. Koskinen admitted he needed to be in better shape as well, which we saw when his game wilted while starting a ridiculous 25 of the Oilers’ final 27 games last season.

“I see a guy who is more composed now,” said winger Alex Chiasson. “Instead of sliding across at the last second, trying to make the save, he feels he can manage those reaction times. It has fed his confidence.

“And he’s not playing three back-to-backs in a row. He’s fresh.”