Connor McDavid’s status still in question as struggling Oilers prepare for Maple Leafs

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Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers handles the puck as David Perron of the St. Louis Blues watches during the second period of an NHL hockey game on December 29, 2021 in St. Louis.Jeff Roberson / The Associated Press

The Oilers arrived in Toronto late Monday in their worst funk in years. It’s one thing to play badly when it’s what you expect but not now, not like that. They enter Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs with just two wins in their last twelve games.

It’s not the Arizona Coyotes or the Montreal Canadiens, but for the moment they are floundering like them. They are barely hanging on to a wildcard position after a 16-5 start and they may have to move forward without Connor McDavid, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

For an Edmonton fan, the most disconcerting thing is that his struggles aren’t a puzzle. There are a few areas where they need to improve, but their fatal flaw is the goalkeeper. That was two years ago, it was last season and it remains so now.

As the Oilers fell in the standings, they allowed the first goal in 11 of the last 12 games and 20 of the last 24. Even McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can’t consistently get their teammates out of the ditch through so many bad starts.

Mikko Koskinen shot a puck over the glass to give Rangers a power play 15 seconds after Monday’s 4-1 loss, then strayed too far from the net and allowed Alexis Lafrenière to shoot into the hole yawning five minutes later.

After a 12-2 streak at the start of the season, Koskinen has now lost six straight games. To say that his blunder left Dave Tippett chapped is nice. The Oilers coach was as thorny as a porcupine when asked about it afterwards.

“Our goalie was not very good…” said Tippett. “It was a brutal mistake. Call him what he is.

Edmonton bet on tandem Mike Smith-Koskinen last year and got away with it until he was swept away in the first round of the playoffs. Smith is now 39 and often injured, and Koskinen has proven to be less reliable than expected. With Smith injured, Koskinen was overworked, which is not his fault. It falls on the shoulders of general manager Ken Holland who has failed to fortify an obvious weak point. 23-year-old rookie Stuart Skinner could be called up in place of Koskinen at the Scotiabank Arena. He’s 4-5 with a .916 save percentage – better than Smith or Koskinen – but far from battle-tested.

There are potentially a handful of experienced goalies available in the league – Marc-André Fleury, Braden Holtby and Linus Ullmark among them – but acquiring one would be expensive. But that cost will only continue to rise as long as the Oilers are stuck in quicksand.

The argument for doing so, of course, lies in losing another spectacular year of play from McDavid and Draisaitl. They are respectively first in points and goals in the NHL.

Edmonton is 0-4 on a road trip that included overtime losses to New Jersey and Long Island. His first loss was a tough guy in St. Louis, and then he was heavily beaten by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Toronto has three straight wins and seven of its last 10 and is just a few points behind first place in the Eastern Conference. Jack Campbell, who is second in the league in goals against average, save percentage and shutouts, is expected to be in the Maple Leafs zone on Wednesday. He was as great as the Oilers goaltenders were.

It’s unclear whether Auston Matthews or McDavid will perform. Matthews was positive for COVID-19 after a rapid antigen test on Monday and was negative in a PCR test on Tuesday, but missed practice for precautionary reasons. It will be tested again on Wednesday morning.

McDavid did not participate in morning practice in New York on Monday, but played on Monday night. He was absent from training from Edmonton to Toronto on Tuesday and Tippett later confirmed he tested positive. He’ll be tested again on Wednesday and if he’s out for a long time it’s a big blow to the Oilers.

“It’s easier to play when you’re confident and you win and it gets harder when you go through something like that,” Edmonton defenseman Cody This said after their most recent loss. “We have guys in and out of roster and we don’t know who’s playing.

“It’s just a frustrating time.”

This, who has had a rough season with the Maple Leafs, appears to have found a home on the Edmonton blue line. At this point, however, the team flirts with doubt.

“It definitely affects the mood of the players,” said This. “When you start to put yourself down and with your teammates and so on. I think a win will go a long way for this group. We have started the year really well, so we know we can do it. “


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