The Edmonton Oilers entered the past week after reeling off five straight wins against the Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, Seattle Kraken, San Jose Sharks, and Arizona Coyotes. Despite the hot streak, they were merely keeping pace in the Pacific Division, as the Los Angeles Kings and Alberta Golden Knights were winning just as much as the team from northern Alberta.
Their schedule included two games against the aforementioned Vegas squad, along with a rematch against the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe. Stuart Skinner was the starting goalie both games against the stronger Knights while Jack Campbell was tasked with the game in Mullet Arena. Here’s how each game broke down:
Game 73: Skinner starts at home against the Knights
There is going to be many of these in the coming weeks, but this game was the biggest of the Oilers’ season to this point with a chance to close the gap on the division leading Golden Knights in a four-point game. Laurent Brossoit was making his first start in over a month after being sidelined with an injury due to Logan Thompson reinjuring his lower body in their previous game against Calgary. Vegas came into the game winners of three straight, setting up a strong match up for both teams.
Eichel puts the Knights on the scoreboard
Vegas breaks in on a two-on-one, where Jack Eichel got the puck early on a cross ice pass. Skinner’s rotation and push are a mess, as his whole body rotates late with a big c cut that puts him behind the play, leaving him chasing out to Eichel’s position. Instead what should happen is his head leads around his shoulder to the end point of the pass, naturally rotating his whole body in the process. As a result, he never sets his feet on the shot, so when he drops to the butterfly, he’s actually falling backwards onto his heels. This causes his blocker to pull back and opens the hole under his arm. It’s not a good goal.
Vegas gets a powerplay goal
Vegas attacks the line with speed but the cross ice pass gets broken up leading to a weird sequence. William Karlsson is crossing Skinner’s sightline as Pavel Dorofeyev releases the puck. Phil Kessel’s presence behind coverage on the back door limits any extra depth that Skinner can take towards the shot. Skinner goes from an elevated stance to a wider and more settled stance when he loses sight of the puck with the traffic. This is normally done to help pick up pucks through traffic and react to the ice more quickly. However, between being slightly deep because of the back door option, the settled stance, and the traffic, Skinner is in a position where he doesn’t react in time.
Skinner allows one in from Marchessault
Zach Hyman turns the puck over on the entry of an attacking rush, leading to a Vegas rush chance of their own. Leon Draisaitl is in proper support position but can’t pick up the pass to the trailer, which should be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ assignment. Eichel’s drive down the wing pushes Skinner back to his post, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to gain ice before he has to set on the release. The hard shot comes off the stick behind Nugent-Hopkins’ body to the point that the puck is basically already by Skinner before he starts reacting
Roy gets the OT winner
I still have no idea what Evander Kane is thinking on this play, between losing Nicolas Roy in the first place, coasting back to the play or going behind the net. Roy is able to make three moves before the first shot where Skinner makes a great save. That save is off the inside of his blocker so the rebound is directed to the far side where Roy can tuck it around Skinner’s outstretched leg before any of the three Oilers can touch him.
Oilers underperformed this game
The Oilers weren’t at their best and neither was their goalie. Skinner finished the game with 0.76 goals saved below expected, adding to the loss in what was a 38th-percentile performance. If he was on the other side of the overtime result, he would be at 84th percentile and 0.24 GSAx. It was a frustrating loss because despite the underlying numbers, the Oilers had a chance to grab two points with an extra save or goal at some point.
Game 74: Campbell starts on the road against the Coyotes
Campbell’s struggles were well known but he needed to take this game against Arizona as it was the first of a back-to-back, setting up a rematch against Vegas, where Skinner would be needed against the stronger team. The Coyotes had just played the night before against the Colorado Avalanche, falling 3–1 to Colorado in a game where Connor Ingram started, leaving Karel Vejmelka to start against the Oilers for the first time this year. This had all the makings on an extremely winnable game.
Maccelli scores his first of the game
The Coyotes have a partial three-on-two that gets broken up by a good backcheck. Matias Maccelli button hooks into the high slot before shooting. The back angle shows Campbell has a clear sightline on the release and the puck trajectory but just ends up whiffing as his glove drops underneath the fluttering shot.
Coyotes in the lead with a powerplay goal
Barrett Hayton attacks the net from a bad angle while Campbell rightfully plays the drive from reverse vertical horizontal (RVH aka when the post side pad is on the ice while the weak side skate is up to grab an edge). However, his weight is still leaning backwards, which partially causes Campbell to flatten out along the goalline as the shot comes. When he flattens out, his shoulders open up to the middle of the ice, which allows the rebound to head to the same direction. It’s a horrible bounce off Mattias Ekholm’s skates that finds a way through Campbell but staying square to the original shot would keep the rebound in front of him.
Maccelli gets his second of the night
The play starts when Campbell stops the puck but rims it to no one for an eventual turnover. Lawson Crouse ends up with the puck off the dot after a pass from Jack McBain. Campbell isn’t completely set on the shot and drops back in his butterfly, causing him to kick at the shot, which helps create the rebound. There’s a big counter rotation on Campbell’s recovery attempt but he was already far enough of position that it’d didn’t matter at that point.
Hayton ties the game with his second goal
The initial shot is partially blocked by Evan Bouchard, then bounces off of Hayton before Campbell makes a kick save to stop the first attempt. Campbell was reaching towards the initial shot trajectory to his right despite the shot eventually coming from his left but still has a chance to beat Hayton back to the post after that because he picks it up quickly. However, his recovery is a massive counter rotation, with his whole upper body moving towards Bouchard. As he pushes to try to recover from that counter-rotation, he pushes up to try to get around to square, which opens the ice for Hayton to slide it through the five-hole. If Campbell didn’t panic in his recovery, there’s a decent chance he makes the save.
Campbell makes a spectacular save
Crouse’s shot from the high slot is directed at Campbell’s glove but it handcuffs him so he can’t catch it clean. Campbell does track the rebound out and does a good job to get his pad and glove right over top of the puck to cut down the angle. If he had done this on the fourth goal, he’d likely have a save.
Is Campbell’s performance slowly improving?
Campbell finished with 1.15 goals saved below expected, which was a 33rd-percentile performance in eighth consecutive negative performance. After the first period, there was conversation on Twitter that Campbell was making big saves and was playing the best he had in a while. Nothing had fundamentally changed in his play but his desperation saves were working. The saves look extra impressive because he’s having to work back to position to get behind the puck. The Oilers will take the saves where they can get them, but almost everyone will have a tough time seeing sustainable success when they’re regularly chasing the play.
At the end of the day, the Oilers weren’t the sharpest defensively but were able to score enough and get just enough saves from Campbell to secure a crucial two points.
Game 75: Skinner starts on the road against the Knights
In the second most important game of the season, the Oilers were coming in at a disadvantage. They had played the previous night in Arizona, and had to travel into Las Vegas to play in one of the toughest rinks in the league while the Golden Knights had not played since their match up in Edmonton. Skinner was slated to start his second straight against the division leaders, while Vegas Coach Bruce Cassidy countered with veteran Jonathan Quick.
Marchessault opens up the scoring
Ekholm loses the battle on the boards, leading to Nugent-Hopkins putting a bouncing puck on Connor McDavid, who can’t handle it, ultimately ending up on a Vegas stick. Skinner chases the first shot’s trajectory with his stick, meaning the quick forehand-backhand from Marchessault finds an uncovered five-hole as Skinner loads to push to follow the attacker’s path around the goal mouth.
Karlsson gets a shorthanded goal
Bouchard can’t handle the bouncing puck, leading to a shorthanded breakaway for Karlsson. Hyman gets back for some pressure which limits Karlsson’s options. Skinner’s blocker chases sideways instead of down directly towards the puck, which pulls the stick from the five-hole. Skinner’s weight had shifted backwards with the backwards flow on the breakaway. He ultimately stays there as he drops to the butterfly, which limits how quick he can get to the ice, as his knees have to fight forward against his natural motion. This had been a common issue earlier in the year which had been better of late.
Vegas ties the game once again
Philip Broberg’s pass goes off Kessel’s stick after Darnell Nurse wipes the latter out, ending up with a sitting puck at the net front. Broberg ends up on the wrong side of Michael Amadio coming back to the front of the net which allows the Vegas attacker to get multiple shots off. Skinner is able to make the first save but the rebound ends up right back on Amadio’s stick where Skinner has no chance on the second one despite his effort. From this tight in, the focus is just about making the first save then hoping for some help, but that help does not come.
Marchessault with his second of the night
Alex Pietrangelo is able to beat Ekholm on the one-on-one, but Skinner is able to make the first save on the jam play after a deke. The rebound shoots out to the back door off the pad where Marchessault is sitting there to tap it in a split second before Skinner can reach across. It’s a tough play in garbage time.
The Oilers earned their two points
Skinner finished at 1.00 goal saved below expected, which was a 33rd-percentile performance. Ideally, there’s a great save somewhere and the Oilers will certainly need those coming down the stretch at some point. The low-quantity and high-quality make up of the workload put Skinner in a spot where there’s zero margin for error in order to look good by the game by game metrics.
A preview of the next week
The Oilers upcoming schedule sees them play four games over the next seven days, featuring a home and home against both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. The Oilers’ home half of each home and home comes this week on Thursday and Saturday, while they play back-to-back in southern California on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
In what will be the third most important game of the year in a week, the Kings will visit Rogers Place on March 30. The Kings head into the match up having suffered their first defeat since February 26 against the New York Rangers, winning all 12 of their games since then prior to the game at the Saddledome. The Kings have been using a pure rotation of Pheonix Copley and Joonas Korpisalo. This game may be the first time Todd McLellan sways from that, with Copley giving up six to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, while Korpisalo could look to get back in after only allowing two in the lost to the Flames.
On the other hand, the Ducks have suffered five straight defeats heading into their Thursday matchup with Seattle. The team is clearly tanking for phenom Connor Bedard, selling off as many assets as possible over the last calendar year. Former Oiler Anthony Stolarz has been sidelined since mid-February, leaving John Gibson to handle the majority of the duties while top prospect Lukas Dostal occasionally spells him. The Ducks did beat the Oilers in Edmonton in December, but it was one of Skinner’s worst games of the year while the team was just flat in front of him.
Skinner’s play has started to slip in recent weeks. To me, it still seems serviceable, but if the Oilers want him at the top of his game heading into the playoffs as the presumed starter, they will have to give him some rest. The late season schedule thankfully allows for that without likely sacrificing too many points. The Ducks sit fourth last in the league, proividing what should be some easy competition for a team with designs on doing damage in the playoffs. I’d expect to see Skinner play both games against the Kings in the upcoming week. Campbell will definitely get the second half of the back-to-back at the Honda Center and I would not be surprised to see him play Saturday at home against the same Ducks squad.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire