Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft knows who his starter will be for Game 2.
He’s just not telling.
Woodcroft, whose Oilers lost 4-3 in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Los Angeles Kings, is keeping those cards closely guarded.
“Yes, I do know and we’ll wait until tomorrow, most likely to share it,” he told media Tuesday so matter-of-factly.
“How about that.”
The question arose after a gaff from Game 1 starter Mike Smith ended up, eventually, in the back of his net at 14:46 of the third period.
Smith nonchalantly threw the puck up the middle of the ice, seemingly trying to target Leon Draisaitl for a long outlet. But he instead found Kings forward Alex Iafallo in the slot. Smith scrambled back into his crease to make a diving save, but a point shot from Sean Durzi deflected in off Phillip Danault moments later.
The goal, lamented by fans, stood as the game-winner.
“I was just trying to make something happen, obviously trying to do too much there,” said Smith, who in total stopped 31 of 35 shots in the game. “In a tight game like that, you can’t afford to make mistakes like that. It ended up costing us the game. Obviously disappointed, but it’s one game and we move on.”
The play, questioned by media, prompted further query into whether or not Smith — whose puck playing prowess is both problematic and second-to-none in the league — would return to tend twine in Game 2.
“I think it was one puckhandling error,” Woodcroft reasoned Tuesday. “He made a big save off of that error. I think as a team we can do things that can help him in that situation, the first one being communicate. I think when you communicate well it leads to speed for your team. So I think we can do a better job there. I think it’s a real skill of his.
“That one play you’re referencing is one that he’d like to have back, but it’s a real asset of his.”
Smith has lost five straight playoff games for the Oilers.
Including his time as a member of the Calgary Flames, he’s dropped 10 straight postseason contests.
“He’s a leader on our team,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said. “He’s vocal in the locker room. Everyone makes mistakes during the course of a game. Even after that, he made a heck of a save to get back in the net. And we could’ve helped him out. So it wasn’t a one-off that went into the back of the net. There was a series of things that could’ve been done to prevent it.
“He’s been phenomenal for us and a huge part of our team, huge leader in the locker room, just a great teammate.”
Smith won his final nine starts of the regular season, tying Jacques Plante to become just the second goaltender in NHL history aged 40 or older to net such a lengthy streak. During the run, he had a 1.66 goals-against average and .951 save percentage with two shutouts.
Woodcroft’s other option is on-again, off-again backup Mikko Koskinen.
Koskinen went 27-12-4 with a 3.10 goals against average and .903 save percentage in 45 games.
Edmonton’s bench boss doesn’t have to make a decision — or reveal that decision — until the series resumes at Rogers Place on Wednesday.
“We’ve got time,” Woodcroft said. “We’ll use it.”