Mailbag: Oilers goalies, surprising rookie, Blackhawks issues

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Do you think Edmonton will make a trade for a goalie in the next couple of weeks with Smith on LTIR and Koskinen not playing that well? This was already a suspect tandem going into the season. — @GLaSnoST9

I would think the Edmonton Oilers have to do something. Mikko Koskinen is 1-3-0 with a 3.80 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. With Mike Smith on long-term injured reserve, Koskinen has played four games in six nights, including back-to-back games against the Vancouver Canucks to start the season. Koskinen needs help, but I still think he will bounce back. The 32-year-old was 18-13-3 with a 2.75 GAA, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 38 games (34 starts) last season, and is 46-38-9 with a 2.95 GAA, a .909 save percentage and five shutouts in 100 NHL games (93 starts).

I wonder how much teams would command for a goalie in a trade, knowing the Oilers could use one and the price they might be willing to pay.

 

Who’s going to be the NHL rookie surprise this year? — @kauaiking2010

You mean who’s going to be Dominik Kubalik, the Chicago Blackhawks forward we didn’t predict to score 30 goals last season and be a finalist for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL rookie of the year?

I’m going to stay in the Western Conference and go with Dallas Stars forward Joel Kiviranta. The 24-year-old let us know who he was during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he scored six points (five goals, one assist) in 14 games, including a hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round.

Kiviranta is going to get an opportunity, most likely on the second line, with the Stars. He skated on the fourth line at practice Saturday and Sunday because he was out from Jan. 8-15. The Stars closed their facility from Jan. 8-12 because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and coach Rick Bowness wanted Kiviranta to get his legs back.

There are several rookies I’m looking forward to watching this season, including Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov, who leads first-year players with four points (one goal, three assists) in three games. But Kiviranta’s my pick.

Video: DAL@VGK, Gm5: Kiviranta ties it on power play

 

With the new season almost a week old, have you noticed any coaching trends or changes in game play because of the new scheduling format? — @Cliffdeutsch

I assume you’re talking coaches doling out playing time, and I haven’t seen anything different that I could pin on the schedule. It’s still more about whether someone’s playing well. Los Angeles Kings general manager Rob Blake was asked before the season began if he expected veteran forwards like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to play fewer minutes. He didn’t. “Those guys are capable, they understand,” he said. And with a 56-game season, with every game meaning so much, I don’t expect coaches to veer far from their usual plans with players unless it’s performance related.

As for the games, you could see the rust in some of the early ones, but it’s been entertaining hockey, right?

 

The New Jersey Devils, yay or nay? — @ZosoRisingJPLZ

My remote has gotten a workout going from game to game the past few days, but I like what I’ve seen from the Devils. It’s not easy playing the Boston Bruins your first two games of the season after 10 months off, but the Devils looked good, losing the first game 3-2 in the shootout and winning the second 2-1 in overtime.

I know goaltending is going to be a work in progress after Corey Crawford announced his retirement Jan. 9. I like Mackenzie Blackwood. I also want to see how Aaron Dell does after the Devils claimed him off waivers Monday. Dell was 12-15-3 with a 3.01 GAA and .907 save percentage in 33 games (30 starts) for the San Jose Sharks last season. After four seasons in San Jose, and a brief time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dell could get some work with New Jersey.

It’s early, but starts are important, especially in a 56-game season, and the Devils are off to a good one, now 2-0-1 after their 4-3 win against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. I’ll really be interested to see what happens once forwards Nico Hischier (foot) and Jesper Bratt (undisclosed) return from injury.

Video: BOS@NJD: Blackwood shuts down Frederic and Ritchie

 

Will the scheduling be forever changed now with back-to-back games that cut down on travel and costs going forward? — @AdamSteinhouse

It’s a good question, but I’m guessing we won’t have an answer until everyone has experienced it this season.

On the surface, I think there’s a lot to like about an 82-game season. It’s easier for players to get rest between games because they’re going back to the hotel, going to bed at a decent hour, waking up with a full night’s rest and back at it the next day.

I know there are a lot of Eastern Conference teams that don’t go through the rigorous travel every season, but for teams like the Sharks, Canucks and Arizona Coyotes, whose flights are rarely hops, this has to be an easier way to do it.

The format is worth revisiting at the end of the season.

 

Is the Blackhawks defense porous, the goaltending shaky, Joel Quenneville’s wine cellar breathtaking or all of the above? — @ThomasWilmouth1

I should’ve saved a picture of that wine cellar that was made public this week, but knowing I have no shot at having one of my own, it’s probably best I let it go.

As for the Blackhawks, yes, there are several issues after they’ve been outscored 15-5 in their first three games. I thought Collin Delia looked very good in the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 15, but once he came out to play the puck, it led to a turnover and the Lightning’s first goal, and then he looked rattled. Delia talked about Crawford during the preseason, how if Crawford had a bad play or gave up a bad goal, he shook it off immediately. Delia must do the same. Kevin Lankinen made 22 saves in his first NHL start Tuesday, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. Coach Jeremy Colliton hasn’t said how the Blackhawks would break up the goalies’ starts throughout the season, so whoever out of Delia, Malcolm Subban or Lankinen finds success first will have a leg up.

The defense needs to tighten up. Connor Murphy said after a 5-2 loss to the Panthers on Sunday that they need to be better winning battles around the net, and if there is a breakdown, they need to know how to manage that play. There’s work to be done.

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