One would think that four consecutive wins and three in a row on the road would have fans in Edmonton happy. Yet, for some reason, a developing storyline surrounding the Oilers is in the net where there’s a bit of a storm brewing when it comes to who the starter might be.
Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic wrote before Saturday’s win over Calgary, “Stuart Skinner deserves this start on merit. Still, I’m a bit surprised Jack Campbell isn’t playing in an attempt to get him going and to give him a chance to atone for a poor showing in the last BoA two weeks ago.” Jeff Veillette wrote as the Oilers were playing in a shootout game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, “Really starting to wonder if second-half Jack Campbell last year was the one to expect and not the aberration. 0.895 through five games going into tonight and now he’s given up 5 on 36 against Chicago. The hot start to his TOR tenure really starting to feel like the outlier.”
Stuart Skinner leads the NHL standings for netminders with a .955 save percentage. He’s made 128 saves on 134 shots against and he’s looked stellar in his four games played so far this season. On the other hand, the designated starter, Jack Campbell has looked good but has been outshined by the backup. Fans are already jumping on Campbell and some on social media are arguing the $5 million invested into the next five seasons of Campbell’s career might have been a mistake.
All that said, is there really a controversy? The answer is no and more importantly, any fan making a to-do out of this should be asking, why can’t you just have nice things?
Jack Campbell Has Been Fine
Yes, Campbell’s save percentage is not where anyone wants it to be, including the netminder himself. At. 888, it leaves a bit to be desired, but there are a few things worth remembering here. First, Campbell is notorious for getting off to a bit of a slow start. He’s done so throughout his career and he gets going as the season rolls along. Second, the Oilers have left him out to dry on many occasions. Campbell has been forced to try and make for more 10-bell saves than he should be. If the Oilers can cut that down, his numbers will improve. Finally, Campbell has been good at shutting the door when he absolutely has to.
Campbell has let in some stinkers and fans in Toronto were quick to point that out. But, Ilya Samsonov has let in a few whoppers of his own and Campbell hasn’t offered up the same number of lapses in skill that Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen used to display on a regular basis. Fortunately for the Oilers, Campbell has also made the big saves at the biggest moments. If you look at some of the key stops he has made this season, he’s been the sole reason the Oilers have remained in certain games and often the unsung hero as to why they’ve won them.
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The team knows how valuable he is and what a great teammate he’ll be over the next many seasons. This is a goalie you want to play well for. Fans just need to give it time.
Skinner Has Been a Pleasant Surprise
That Skinner has played so well shouldn’t be a huge shocker. There have been some small samples that have hinted he’s got the stuff to be an NHL regular and potential starter. But, because he was so unproven, that he’s playing so well this early and looks so poised is a plus that few would have expected.
This is just icing on the cake if you’re a fan of the team or a member of the organization because it allows the Oilers some flexibility in the net. Not having to play Campbell for 50-plus games is a massive bonus and it allows the Oilers to keep running with a 1A and 1B punch that was clearly pegged to be a 1-2 at the beginning of the season.
The best thing that can happen here is that Skinner keeps playing well and that Campbell simply catches up.
This Isn’t New Territory for the Oilers
Think back to the last couple of seasons and running with two goalies is not abnormal for the Oilers. In fact, as Kurt Leavins of the Edmonton Journal points out, some of the team’s most successful seasons came when the club had two netminders who were competing for the starting job, and both wanted the net. Leavins mentions Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr as examples of how well this kind of thing can go.
While Skinner and Campbell are no Moog and Fuhr, the theory that two starters can’t work together for the betterment of the team has already been proven to be false. Leavins writes:
Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog are among the greatest goaltending tandems in NHL history. From 1982 through 1987 Fuhr and Moog started some 400 of 407 regular season games and (predictably) all 84 post-season matches. And while both their styles and personalities differed widely, by all accounts it was a competitive but very friendly, collegiate and productive relationship. They built a 5-year resume together as “1A” and “1B” that will be difficult for any other two goaltenders to equal.source – ‘The Edmonton Oilers goaltending controversy? What controversy? 9 Things’ – Kurt Leavins – Edmonton Journal – 10/30/2022
Leavins does point out that, eventually, there wasn’t room for both netminders, and Moog was moved to Boston. A trade may happen down the road if Skinner turns out to be a legitimate starter. For now, the team isn’t at that stage and the best thing fans can do is stay pleased as punch that the Oilers have two goalies they can pop in the net, and head coach Jay Woodcroft merely needs to run with the hot hand.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”