Oilers’ Road Trip Good Test for Jack Campbell’s Mental Toughness

There’s no denying that Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell is off to a rough start with his new team. When general manager (GM) Ken Holland brought him into the fold this summer by signing him to a 5-year $25 million deal, they knew they weren’t getting a Vezina Trophy calibre goaltender, but they thought they’d be getting one that was capable of keeping them in the fight.

In eight games played in an Oilers uniform, he has a .874 save percentage (SV%), and 4.20 goals-against average (GAA), which ranks 65th in the NHL among goaltenders. As The Hockey Writers’ Colton Pankiw describes, his latest outing on Nov. 5 against the Dallas Stars may have been his worst performance to date, allowing six goals on 36 shots. After the game, Campbell was critical of his own play by saying, “I just haven’t brought my best, and frankly it’s just been pathetic the way I’ve been playing.”

TSN’s Mark Masters spoke on the “Got Yer Back” podcast about Campbell’s history of being his own critic, dating back to when he was a Toronto Maple Leaf. He said, “I kind of had flashbacks to some of the scrums and media sessions Jack Campbell held in Toronto because when things were not going well and he was not playing well, he was incredibly, hard on himself.”

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Let’s take a look back to a rough stretch Campbell had in February 2022 as a member of the Maple Leafs. He was pulled in a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 26 after allowing five goals and had an unsatisfactory .887 SV% in his previous 15 games. At the time, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe spoke about Campbell’s mental state, saying, “It’s a mental block kind of thing going on now that he’s got to work his way through.”

Campbell was able to persevere thereafter. He won eight out of the final 11 regular season games and while his .898 SV% was mediocre, he posted a 2.81 GAA during that span. He finds himself in a similar scenario, struggling with mental toughness, albeit it’s early in the season with a new team. The Oilers are on a four-game road trip and he’ll likely get the start against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 8, and this time spent away from Rogers Place will be a good test to see if he’s able to bounce back.

Campbell Has a History of Being Hard on Himself

The Oilers’ goaltending situation was up and down the last few seasons with the rollercoaster goaltending of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. With Smith, he was notorious for playing the puck as one of the best puck-moving goaltenders the game has seen, yet he was known for the occasional blunder that led to goals against. But ask yourself, were you ever concerned about his mental state after coughing the puck up? You’d likely answer no because, for the most part, he’d shake it off and continue about his business.

On the other hand, with Campbell’s honesty about his performances, we’re led to believe that we should be wary of his mental toughness. Masters provided additional insight into Campbell’s time in Toronto:

“It was crazy ranges because it was either pure giddiness usually after a win, or he was really down after losses, and he works so hard on it, and he never really carried the load as a starter before arriving in Toronto and then he kind of took over the job when Frederik Andersen was out with injury — so that was a big thing for him to deal with. Because previously in his career when he was starting infrequently, he had more time to process the emotions and each game as they came, so that was a big challenge for him, and I know it was a concern in Toronto.”

Mark Masters

By Masters’ assessment, Campbell appears to be an emotional player that has high highs and low lows. However, moving forward, he needs to do whatever it takes to get his emotions in check and start playing like the $5 million starting goaltender the Oilers are paying him to be. Yet, one thing that bodes well for him is his previous experience handling the big pressure in a city like Toronto. He’s previously shown that he can bounce back in a Canadian market, as his eight wins in the Maple Leafs’ final 11 games last season after a tough stretch, would suggest.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It should also be comforting for him knowing his team, and also his coach, have his back with Jay Woodcroft saying, “I’m confident Jack is going to put the work in. He’s a great teammate and we have confidence in him and he’ll continue to work through it.”

Will Campbell Bounce Back or Falter on Road Trip?

The upcoming four-game road trip is very important for the Oilers, not just for their positioning in the standings, but it’ll be interesting to see the play of both Oilers’ goaltenders Campbell and Stuart Skinner. Before the game against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 7, Skinner had a 2.10 GAA, and .944 SV% on the season, and those stats resemble more of the expected numbers of a starting goaltender in comparison to Campbell’s 4.20 GAA and .874 SV%. That said, Campbell’s performance on this road trip, whether he rises to the occasion or continues to falter, could determine how much more, or less action, Skinner sees moving forward.

Related: Potential Trade Ideas to Send Jack Campbell Back to Maple Leafs

Simply put, Campbell has some work to do in both his play on the ice and his mental toughness. Should he get the start against Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, it will be a good test of fortitude because the last time he played the Lightning it resulted in an emotional Game 7 playoff loss last spring when he was a member of the Maple Leafs.

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