Two games into the Edmonton Oilers’ 2022–23 season, both goaltenders Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner have seen game action, although it was unplanned for the latter. In Edmonton’s season opener, Campbell let in early goals to open the game but remained in the game as the Oilers mounted a comeback victory.
Campbell was given the start again in the first Battle of Alberta of the season and was promptly chased out of net by the Flames. Four goals against on 11 shots was the breaking point and in came Skinner to settle the crease.
Less than a full game of play for Skinner can not lead to any decisive conclusions about one goaltender being better than the other, and similarly, two bad starts do not immediately warrant pitchforks for Campbell either. That said, the trends between the two goalies were stark and it’s worth assessing their early performances already.
To compare the two goaltenders, we’ll look at both traditional and advanced stats to take a look at how they’ve differed beyond just the scoresheet. We can look at a stat called goals saved above expected (GSAx) to see how the two compare. All data presented is from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Traditional stats for the Oilers goalies
So far, Campbell has played a total of 70:12 across the first two games at all situations–59:54 in the first, and a mere 10:18 in the second. Skinner has 48:43 under his belt coming in relief.
Here’s how the two stack up with traditional metrics such as goals against average (GAA) and save percentage. We’ll break it down twice, once at all situations and once at 5v5 play (not adjusting for score or venue).
All situations metrics
To be fair to both goaltenders, it’s worth reiterating that this early in the season, these numbers will change fast, so discontent towards Campbell or praise towards Skinner may only be temporary. That doesn’t change the facts or the stats however.
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now—Campbell has decidedly struggled while Skinner was flawless. As of October 17—i.e. Monday night games excluded—among all goaltenders with at least 20 minutes of ice time, Campbell’s SV% ranks 44th of 55 eligible goaltenders.
Obviously, Skinner finds himself tied for first with Ville Husso of the Detroit Red Wings with neither of them yet to cede a goal. A little bit more on this later.
The first two goals against by the Canucks and the first two goals against by the Flames share a commonality: they were early in the first period and were all at 5v5. The Oilers were down 2–0 by 2:40 against Vancouver and were down 2–1 by 4:34 against Calgary.
To let in multiple 5v5 goals—or any goals for that matter—that early in a game is a great way to kill momentum and make it much hard to come back in a game. Luckily, the Oilers gave Campbell goal support against the Canucks, the Flames were slightly more stingy on defence and the Oilers were unable to crack them to tie the game.
Skinner did everything he could to keep the Oilers in the game and made several outstanding saves against Calgary. Put into a high pressure situation of a three-goal deficit in the Battle of Alberta, the Oilers can’t really ask more from Skinner at this point. He should be slotted in for a few more starts sooner rather than later purely as a reward.
Advanced stats for the Oilers goalies
If we turn to advanced stats, things look worse for Campbell.
All situations advanced metrics
In the table below, you can see how GSAx is calculated. It takes the difference between a goaltender’s expected goals against (xGA) and subtracts from it their actual goals against.
A brief explainer on expected goals
Every shot has an expected goal value thanks to public models built to assign the likelihood of a shot turning into a goal. Models can include things such as shot location, shooter, goaltender, game situation, and more. As mentioned, the expected goal values in this post are taken from NaturalStatTrick and the model they developed.
Comparing GSAx values above, Skinner outperformed Campbell by a margin of 6.28 goals. That’s a massive difference after just two games and it doesn’t paint Campbell in a positive light. Had Skinner equally struggled, the story would have been different. However, it’s a stark contrast between the two that can’t go unnoticed.
Between the two goalies with perfect save percentages, Skinner actually has a higher GSAx compared to Husso at all situations. Husso clocks in at a mere 1.62 xG over 29 shots in his single game. This suggests that the shot quality that Skinner saved was much higher, and that his save percentage remaining at 1.000 was much more difficult to achieve than Husso.
5v5 advanced metrics
At 5v5, the values to note continues to be the difference between the two goaltenders.
Skinner again outperforms Campbell at a margin of 4.17 GSAx. For context, at 5v5 Campbell has played 50:31 and Skinner at 37:37. Forgive the broken record, but Skinner was drastically better in his relief appearance than Campbell was in his two starts.
Merging divergent goalie paths back into one
The Oilers’ season is merely two games old. A record of 1–1–0 makes for little—or more appropriately: no worry—on the outlook of their whole season. However, putting goaltending under a microscope suddenly has some alarms going off.
While the Oilers are by consensus much weaker in the defence position, any new worries about goaltending are warranted by even the calmest of minds. Can Campbell live up to the responsibilities and expectations of a starting goaltender? Or if he loses that spot to Skinner, can Skinner pick up the reins and be consistent throughout the season?
Not to mention the impact on having a newly signed starting goaltender immediately usurped by a budding prospect. Campbell comes in with a five-year contract at $5M a season. To have him take the backup seat is a near impossibility at this point. So expect the Oilers to figure this out sooner rather than later.
In fact, the team is already opting to go with Skinner for the next start. Keep in mind, this is against comparatively weaker opposition in the Buffalo Sabres.
The reality is, it’s way too early to panic too much about Campbell, and it’s way too early to earmark Skinner as the season’s saviour. Neither of those trains of thoughts should persist much longer than it already has.
Give both of them time to build off of each other. The season is young and things are just getting started.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire