The Edmonton Oilers have not gotten the goaltending they’ve needed recently, especially not from Mike Smith, and as we creep closer to the end of the regular season, the team will need help. The trade deadline is long gone, and general manager Ken Holland was comfortable enough with the Oilers’ goaltending to stand pat. The problem is they haven’t been (from “Mike Smith’s struggles are real and they are spectacular. Whatever are the Edmonton Oilers to do?”, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 24, 2022).
The Oilers have managed to outscore their problems in a number of games, but you can’t win playoff games like that, and it looks like that’s where the Oilers are headed. They have a three-game road trip starting in Anaheim on Sunday and then against the other two teams in California. The Oilers come home for a game and then are back on the road for two more.
The Oilers should consider recalling Stuart Skinner to stabilize the goaltending on the upcoming road trip, whether it’s for three games or six. He wouldn’t get all the starts, but they just need a few good ones on what is a very important stretch.
Oilers Need Better Starts Down the Stretch
The Oilers’ tandem is rotating between who is having a few bad games with a good one or two thrown in there. This is much too inconsistent, and it forces the team to have a mindset going in of needing to score five goals on a nightly basis to win games. I wouldn’t put everything on the goaltenders, as the defence has had breakdowns in their own end, but the Oilers have not gotten the key saves or saves they should be getting very often.
Overall, Mikko Koskinen is 13-2-2 in his last 17 games, but his stretch of stellar play has subsided once again, and he has allowed three or more goals in five of the past six starts. The one instance where he didn’t was against the Arizona Coyotes. Before his back-to-back wins vs. the Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings, he posted a save percentage (SV%) under .900 in four consecutive games, being pulled for one in the loss to the Calgary Flames. At the very least, the Oilers should be playing Koskinen over Smith right now.
Smith hasn’t been able to make the big save like Koskinen has this season and also hasn’t been able to string together more than two consecutive good starts. He is out of position a lot, and when he gets beaten, it looks very bad. He has allowed nine goals over the past game and a half he’s been in goal. After another poor showing where he was barely able to help the Oilers hold a three-goal lead and a two-goal lead, it’s time to turn to Skinner for a few games at the very least.
Skinner’s Success in the AHL This Season
Either way you look at it, this has to be the final year for Skinner in the American Hockey League (AHL). He has one more season left on his deal that has a cap hit of $750k, and he will have to go through waivers to get sent down next season. The decision has to result in the last we see of Skinner in the minors, or management really doesn’t know what they are doing in goal for the Oilers’ future.
Skinner has the best SV% of any Oilers goaltender in the NHL this season by a wide margin. In his 12 starts, he’s posted a .913 SV% and one shutout in his final game before being sent back down to the AHL the most recent time. For what it’s worth, Koskinen has a .902 SV%, and Smith has a .894 SV%. Skinner has 1.7 goals saved above expected, while the other two combine for a minus-16.2.
In the AHL, Skinner has a record of 16-4-5 and just posted his fourth shutout of the season in 26 games played. When compared to the other goaltenders on the Bakersfield Condors, you can see just how much better Skinner’s stats are compared to the rest of them.
Skinner has a .919 SV% in the AHL, with the next best SV% coming from Ilya Konovalov at .893. That is a huge difference between the quality that Skinner provides. But he’s also developing well and has improved his SV% each season over the past three.
Important 3-Game Road Trip
Most fans like myself would love to see the Oilers show some trust in Skinner at the NHL level after what he has done for them during his time up this season and how well he has performed in the AHL. Another reason to be impatient is the Oilers’ goaltending hasn’t been consistent, and it doesn’t look good for the team when they are going to need the big stop.
I’d suggest sending Smith down through waivers, as the Oilers would be better off with Skinner. But since that doesn’t appear to be happening, carrying three goalies may be the way to go for a bit. The Oilers would be able to carry three goaltenders on the roster and just not play Smith for a week or two while giving Skinner starts (from “Lowetide: Why Stuart Skinner should be starting games for the Oilers right now”, The Athletic, March 11, 2022). This allows the Oilers to see once again what they have in Skinner during a very important stretch of the season.
This upcoming road trip starts against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Tuesday vs. the San Jose Sharks, and then concludes against the Los Angeles Kings once more in the regular season on Thursday. The first two games of this trip shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge, but the Oilers also can’t take anyone lightly. The Ducks just snapped an 11-game losing streak yesterday, while the Oilers will have to use these matchups to get back on track on the road. They have been dominant at home, winning nine in a row, but at the same time, they have lost five in a row on the road. Those losses came twice to the Calgary Flames, once to the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and the first to the Chicago Blackhawks.
At least one of the first two games of this trip should be backstopped by Skinner so as to not set him up to fail. If he performs well and outperforms the other Oilers’ starter from the other game, then throw him in against the Kings. Maybe the game to go with Skinner is in San Jose since his last NHL game was a shutout victory vs. them.
Related: Oilers’ Must-Watch Games in April 2022
What Skinner and almost every fan are asking for is for him to have a chance to prove himself even though he has done more than that this season. These games, especially on the road, are important for the Oilers to get back on track away from home with few games left in the season. They also don’t have a playoff spot locked up, so whatever it takes to win must be done.