5 Observations From Oilers’ 4-Game Road Trip

The Edmonton Oilers finished their road trip out east going 2-2, which isn’t bad, considering they lost Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto to injuries mid-trip. Their penalty kill continued to struggle, allowing seven goals in four games, and they had costly turnovers that led to goals against.

However, there were a few positives, like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continuing to pile up the points, with a combined 12 points in four games, and how about Zach Hyman continuing to work his tail off every shift? That said, below are five additional observations from their four-game road trip.

Connor McDavid’s Minutes on the Penalty Kill Increased

During the 2021-22 season, McDavid played a total of 18:15 on the penalty kill in 80 games. So far this season through 16 games he’s played 13:25 and 6:07 of those came on this past Oilers’ road trip.

I can understand head coach Jay Woodcroft’s logic in giving his captain more time on the penalty kill. The Oilers’ 29th-ranked penalty-killing unit has struggled and is near the bottom in the NHL, and McDavid is arguably the best player in hockey, so it makes sense to have your best player on the ice in any situation. In the 6:07 shorthanded minutes on the road trip, the opposition didn’t score a goal when he was on the ice, and he created one high-danger scoring chance against the Hurricanes on Nov. 10.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers`

Still, there’s a concern that he might start to fatigue if overplayed. He plays so many minutes 5-on-5 and on the powerplay, that you don’t want to risk overusing him. Yet, it is McDavid after all and if there’s anyone that can pull it off, it’s the Oilers captain. You also don’t want to risk him getting injured by blocking shots, but I feel he’d be smart about those situations with his high hockey IQ. If he’s good to go, I say why not give him more time on the penalty kill?

Jack Campbell Remains Inconsistent

Oilers’ goaltender Jack Campbell had one of his worst performances of the season before the four-game road trip. On Nov. 5 the team lost to the Dallas Stars 6-2 and Campbell said after the game that his play had been “pathetic.”

The Oilers were looking for a bounce-back effort from him on the road, and he put on his best outing of the season in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 8. Woodcroft gave him a chance to build off his confidence and gave him the start against the Carolina Hurricanes just two nights later.

Yet, the shaky goaltending from him that we’ve seen all season continued. The Oilers lost 7-2 against the Hurricanes, and Campbell remained in the net all night to let in all seven, including questionable ones that snuck through his glove and a giveaway that ended up in the back of the net. His stats aren’t pretty, with a 4.27 goals-against-average (GAA) (70th in the NHL) and a .873 save percentage (SV%) (69th in the NHL).

Earlier in the season, Campbell was making the saves to keep his team in the fight, yet he’s given up 15 goals in his last three starts. I know many Oilers fans are frustrated with him, and rightfully so. With Stuart Skinner’s stellar performance against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 12, Campbell’s leash is definitely getting shorter.

Klim Kostin Stood Out in His Oilers’ Debut

The Oilers acquired Klim Kostin on Oct. 9 from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for defenseman Dmitri Samorukov. He was a former first-round draft pick and at first glance, he has all the elements the Oilers need. He’s 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, and a strong skater. He can win puck battles and has good hands, but Allan Mitchell of The Athletic notes that he’s struggled with consistency which has kept him from being an NHL regular (from “Lowetide: What Should the Edmonton Oilers Expect From Klim Kostin,” The Athletic, 11/11/22).

Kostin was called up from the Bakersfield Condors on Nov. 9 and made his debut for the Oilers three days later. He was fairly effective in his eight minutes of ice time against the Panthers, posting a 50% Corsi (CF%), 58.33 Fenwick (FF%), and 57.14 high danger chances (HDCF%). He had a chance on a two-on-one attempt, was credited with a hit, and executed a perfect screen in front of the net on Tyson Barrie’s first goal of the game.

It’s a limited sample size, but he didn’t look out of place and Woodcroft said after the game “Klim has to feel real good about his opportunity as well. He looked like an NHL player today. Big body, went to the front of the net on the first goal, he’s got to feel good of his opportunity in front of a new organization at the NHL level, and he helped our team win.”

With Kane out of the lineup, the Oilers need players with size and someone who isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates. Kostin can play and he’s tough, with one NHL fight under his belt against Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders. He fills a need, but time will tell if he can seize this opportunity.

Warren Foegele Stepped Up for the Oilers

Warren Foegele was a player I was paying close attention to before the road trip. He hadn’t scored a goal in 32 straight games (including last year’s regular season and playoffs) and before the Oilers headed out on the road, I previously wrote that he was one of the players that needed to step up. Things looked like they were heading in an even more downward spiral against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 7. Near the end of the first period, he tried skating the puck out of his zone, turned it over and Dylan Strome scooped it up, and buried it past Skinner.

Whatever self-reflection Foegele had with himself after that game seemed to work because he played one of his best games in an Oilers uniform just two nights later against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Before that game, he only played two minutes shorthanded all season, yet, credit to Woodcroft, he went with a gut instinct and put him on the ice with Ryan McLeod to kill an early Oilers’ penalty. The decision paid off, and Foegele scored a beautiful shorthanded goal for his first of the season, followed by the most joyful celebration.

The Oilers as a whole had a subpar game in the 7-2 loss against Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 10, and they needed a bounce back against the Panthers to even up the road trip. Foegele started the game on the third line, but he had jump early. In the first period, he stole the puck at the Oilers’ blue line and drew a penalty on his partial breakaway. Credit to Woodcroft again, because his decision to make the switch and put him on the second line paid off when he buried the eventual game-winner with just under five minutes remaining.

The last three games of the road trip might have been Foegele’s best stretch with the Oilers, and kudos to him for stepping up. He looked good in his limited time with Draisaitl and Hyman, and with Kane out for a few months, he has quite the opportunity in front of him. It’s now up to him to make the most of it.

Is Stuart Skinner Challenging for the Starter Role?

Stuart Skinner had a 2-2 record and 2.10 GAA and a .944 SV% before facing the Capitals on Nov. 7, yet his numbers dipped thereafter as he allowed five goals in the 5-4 loss. He made some good saves, but the team in front of him struggled, allowing four power play goals.

Fast forward five days later and Skinner’s performance has many thinking it’s time for him to take over the starting role with his hot play. He kept his team in the fight with big saves against the Panthers in the first period to keep the score 0-0 and made 40 of 42 saves to pick up his third win of the season.

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Woodcroft spoke of Skinner’s big performance after the game, saying, “Stuart’s been good the entire season, he’s given us a chance to win. I’ve said this at nauseum but seeing him through his whole development process, I’ve been able to pick up on his cues so to speak, I see someone who’s calm, collected, and works hard for his teammates, so, happy for him that he got the win here tonight.”

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Skinner has looked more collected in net than Campbell and his 2.53 GAA and .932 SV% are numbers that reflect more of a starting goaltender. If I’m Woodcroft I’d want to give Campbell — my $5 million goaltender — a chance to battle his way out of this funk, but at this point, it might be wiser to ride the hot hand, and as of right now that’s Skinner.

Related: 3 Things Oilers Can Do About Jack Campbell’s Up and Down Starts

The win against the Panthers on the last game of the road trip was huge. Instead of heading home 8-8, the Oilers are now 9-7 on the season and have a two-game homestand against Pacific Division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights. Yet, one of the biggest takeaways from the road trip is the stellar play of Skinner and the inconsistency of Campbell.

Moving forward, how would you handle the goaltending situation? Give Skinner more starts, or give Campbell a chance to battle his way out of his struggles? Have your say in the comments below!