The Edmonton Oilers wrapped up their regular season schedule this past week with three games against Western Conference opponents with the top spot in the conference and the Pacific Division still up for grabs.
The week started with a visit to the Shark Tank, where Stuart Skinner started against San Jose. The Oilers’ nine-day, four-game road trip then continued to Denver where Skinner took on the Avalanche with top spot in the West potentially on the line. The final game of the season occurred on April 13, where the Oilers took on the Sharks for a third time in the past two months, handing Skinner the reins once again with the number one seed still up in the air heading into the night. Here’s how each game broke down:
Game 80: Skinner starts on the road against San Jose
The Sharks are bad, and by design. Their goal for the season was to improve their odds for Connor Bedard as much as they could, and did just that. With the weak opponent on tap, the Oilers could have comfortably started Jack Campbell in this game. However, the game had two off days on each side, making a good opportunity for Skinner to get low pressure reps prior to his NHL playoff debut. On the other end of the ice, the Sharks started James Reimer.
Hertl with the only goal for the Sharks
Jason Demers, in his first game back in the NHL, turns the puck over to Jacob Peterson. Philip Broberg is already cheating for the reverse pass while the forwards are setting up to provide an outlet, leaving Kevin Labanc and Tomas Hertl open out front. Skinner shoulder checks immediately after the turnover, but stops on the short side after recognizing Labanc as a threat, so when the pass goes across to Hertl, he’s initially squaring up to the short side for Lebanc. This mean’s he doesn’t get a full push or rotation to get to Hertl’s angle, ending up sprawled out on a tough play.
Skinner ended up stopping 1.69 goals above expected in another steady start from the rookie. The Sharks pressed during the first, but once the score started slipping away, there wasn’t much for Skinner to handle, which is a credit to the state of the Oilers’ team defence.
Game 81: Skinner starts on the road against Colorado
This was a massive game for the Oilers. The Oilers were one point ahead of the Avs, with the Oilers having already clinched the regulation wins tiebreaker over the rest of the Western Conference, meaning a win along with an assumed win against the Sharks in the finale would ensure that Edmonton would at least be the second overall seed in the west. Additionally, a loss virtually ensured that the Oilers would not be able to catch Vegas unless Seattle stunned them with two regulation losses.
The Oilers went to their guy in Skinner, while Avalanche Coach Jared Bednar started Alexandar Georgiev. Both goalies came into the game on a hot streak and had last played on April 8, giving them two days rest.
Skinner only lets one goal slip by
Bowen Byram gets the puck back to Ben Meyers who streaks down the outside of the slot. Nick Bjustad dives to break up the play, and successfully does that. In the process, he ends up sweeping the puck towards his own net. Skinner loses sight of the puck, so it appears he’s trying to find Meyers’ stick blade as the presumed attacker. By the time he picks up the broken play, he’s drifted to his right, meaning he tries to extend a pad, but ends up opening the five-hole. The puck finds a way through the wickets after deflecting off the traffic in front.
Skinner ending up stealing his eighth game of the season, stopping 1.71 goals above expected in a 96th percentile performance against the defending champs. The Avs not only generated a fair amount of quantity, but their chances were high quality, including numerous screened looks and slot line pass opportunities.
Game 82: Skinner starts at home against San Jose
This game was built for Jack Campbell to start. The final game of the regular season against a poor opponent would typically be the perfect opportunity to get the back up some work. However, Skinner started once again for a couple reasons. The most important was that a win would ensure that the Oilers would have a chance to pass the Golden Knights for top spot in the Pacific—pending the results of the Vegas game in Seattle. A more player focused reason Jay Woodcroft may have gone Skinner’s way is that it gave him an opportunity to pass Grant Fuhr for the franchise record for wins as a rookie, which would definitely help his Calder Trophy case (more on that soon).
Meanwhile, the Sharks were going back to James Reimer for another game against Edmonton.
Gregor gets the rebound in
Noah Gregor’s misses a one-timer attempt off a pass from behind the net. However, the miss turns into a perfect centering pass to Bordeleau while there are four Oiler defenders covering the net front. Skinner gets a push to the latter to make the first save in tight but the rebound deadens to the side of the net where Gregor is able to shelf the rebound. Skinner’s best chance on the play would have been to direct the initial shot into the corner with his stick but it’s a tough play due to the speed it developed at and the proximity to the goal.
Lorentz tips one in
San Jose is moving the puck well around the zone as their powerplay gets set to expire. Skinner ends up on his knees when the pass goes to Peterson but recover backs to his feet as the puck goes to Hertl. Skinner engages the post from his butterfly before trying to once again get back to his feet as Hertl moves to the middle. The shot gets through Darnell Nurse’s block, who’s responsibility on the Oilers’ penalty kill as the defenceman is to fill the far side lane but Skinner looks like correctly identifies the initial shot is going wide. It’s a bad bounce for the netminder that it ends up being tipped in on the back door by Steven Lorentz.
Skinner’s best chance on the play would have been to keep his feet instead of engaging the post, which would allow him to be set with extra depth upon the release. This might allow him to shift into the shot and direct the rebound to safety before the puck even gets to Lorentz.
In what seemed like a relatively sloppy game all around, Skinner was still able to make some high danger saves while not giving up any lower danger goals. He finished the night with 1.64 goals saved above expected, resulting in a 90th percentile performance and his 5th straight positive performance.
What to expect for the playoffs
Stuart Skinner will undoubtedly be the Oilers starting goalie come Monday, when the Oilers host the Los Angeles Kings in the first round for the second straight year. The rookie netminder has earned the opportunity, having better consistency and better peak play than his counter part throughout the season. The Oilers’ team defence has kept his workload relatively easy over the past few weeks, which combined with the extra days of rest recently and before Game 1 along with the gap in games between Game 5 and 6 if required.
Signs are pointing that Joonas Korpisalo will get the nod for the Kings in Game 1, as he was the only goalie to start multiple games in a row after the deadline, including their season finale to clinch the third Pacific spot on Thursday.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire