If Edmonton’s goaltending is the chicken, then their new brand of team play is the egg. 

So as the Oilers leave Philadelphia with a 3-0 win in their pocket, should we be talking about Mikko Koskinen’s 39-save shutout? Or the fact that Edmonton has surrendered just five goals total in its past three games on this road trip? 

Which came first? 

“For sure, they got a lot of shots,” Koskinen said. “But they all came from the outside and I could see them all. We did a really good job defensively.” 

This was low-event hockey. That boring, effective game that has eluded this team ever since they began drafting No. 1 overall prodigies, then watching the other 17 skaters all try to play like him. The fact that Edmonton has just two shutouts this season —  both coming since Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach — speaks to a style change that has been a long time coming in Oil Country. 

“You know, the way that we’ve been playing — tight and tight-checking — teams are going to have a hard time scoring on us,” said Leon Draisaitl. “So if we continue that, we got all the trust in the world and both (Koskinen and Mike Smith).” 

“It’s like 20 guys out there who are playing well,” added Koskinen. “Not only the goalie or a couple of guys. It’s everyone.” 

Having just plowed through three of the toughest buildings in the league in Tampa, Florida and Carolina — with just two points, but three relatively solid games — Edmonton met a struggling Philly club that was ripe to be out-waited by a patient, grinding game. That’s exactly what Edmonton delivered, scoring three goals — coming in the final five minutes of each period. 

Draisaitl sniped from long range in the first, and then Kailer Yamamoto banged home a rebound as his linemates watched on, all three of them hovering over goalie Carter Hart’s crease. It was a metaphor for what can happen when you play a low-risk, hard defensive game: You get that playoff-type goal that Edmonton simply does not score enough of. 

“A real May-June type of goal at the end of the second period there,” gushed Woodcroft, “that I think bodes well for us as we move forward. And then I thought we played a really mature third period. I thought we did some things very well tonight.” 

There are 28 regular season games to be played, and if Edmonton spends them perfecting the game they threw at Tampa, Carolina, and now Philly, they’ll be a very difficult out come playoff time. Sure, Connor McDavid and Draisaitl each had two-point nights Tuesday, but they were also big parts of an identity that is forming here, each playing as hard in their own zone as in the offensive end. 

“We’ve asked our players to really up their level of work, really increase our work rate. Specifically, working back to our own end,” said Woodcroft, riffing on one of his favorite themes since taking over 10 games ago (7-3). “I’ve been so impressed with the level of dedication, the level of work that our players are demonstrating on a night in night out basis. 

“I think we’re working our way towards creating a playing identity that will last over the tough times. And you know that’s a full credit to the buy-in and work ethic of our players, because it’s been elite.” 

Koskinen, quietly and through the reams of criticism, has put together some road numbers that are surprisingly elite. 

He’s 12-2-2 on the road this season, with a .919 saves percentage and a 2.59 goals against. He’s settled his game down remarkably, his saves percentage climbing to .905 with the shutout, and if his team continues to improve defensively there’s no reason to think Koskinen’s game will decline markedly. 

“Everything is about winning,” he said Tuesday. “I’m a team player and I don’t care about the stats anymore. I’m all too old anyway. I’m here to win the games, and hopefully something bigger.” 

He’ll admit, however. He’s liking his own game more and more. 

“I’m feeling good — same like the team,” the 33-year-old said. “It’s a good atmosphere in the locker room. We’re enjoying the game, trying to build something strong here.” 

On to Chicago, with a chance to reap six of a possible 10 points on Edmonton’s toughest trip of the year. 


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