Surprise Surprise Oilers Still Have Goaltending Problems


Surprise the Edmonton Oilers have problems, Connor McDavid might be one of them but there’s a giant list that would make Jay Z’s 99 Problems seem light. One of them is the never ending battle in trying to find a capable goaltender.

Then again maybe the Oilers already have? There will always be two sides to any argument and in regards to the Oilers goaltending it’s one group that believes it’s the goaltending that stinks, another that believes it’s the defense.

What if it’s a combination of both?

Since the McDavid injury the Oilers are 1-3-0 and have allowed 13 goals in those four games. Edmonton is once again back in the NHL basement ranked 29th ahead of Columbus. If the draft lottery were to take place today the Oilers would have some very strong odds of landing star prospect Auston Matthews. Not exactly the spot they want to be.

So what is wrong with the Oilers? Is it the goaltending?

Edmonton hasn’t had capable goaltending in years and they’ve seen a Jekyll and Hyde so far. Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson have been up and down this season and both are on cold streaks right now. Kick a horse while it’s down? Why not we’re Oiler fans, we’ve been kicked enough times we can kick back every once and awhile.

Cam Talbot

Stats: 11GP 3-7-0 3.00GAA 0.893SV%

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Cam Talbot (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Talbot, 28, has had a rough last five games. If you compare his first five games vs his last five (excluding the game he split with Nilsson in Washington), Talbot allowed 11 goals versus 19 in his last five.

Those are hardly numbers to be proud of for a starting goaltender. Among goaltenders who have played more than 7 games this season Talbot ranks 32nd for GAA and 35th for SV%.

No one expected Talbot to be Henrik Lundqvist (NY Rangers) or Carey Price (Montreal) but his numbers aren’t helping his team either.

GM Peter Chiarelli paid a heavy price with the multiple picks used to acquire Talbot so there is an investment here. Remember Curtis Joesph, Tommy Salo and even Bill Ranford and Grant Fuhr struggled in their formidable years. There’s still time to turn this around.

Anders Nilsson

Stats: 7GP 3-4-0 3.21GAA 0.902SV%

(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Anders Nilsson (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Nilsson hasn’t been all  that much better with his individual numbers. The Oilers backup who beat last years starter Ben Scrivens for a job ranks 36th for GAA and 30th for SV% in the same sample size as Talbot.

Again these numbers aren’t great but they are middling numbers for a backup. Other backups like Reto Berra (Colorado), Michael Hutchinson (Winnipeg) and Mike Condon (Montreal) have done spectacular jobs unlike Nilsson.

To his defense he hasn’t had the best defense to play in front of. Watch back the Arizona Coyotes  game the other night and try stopping the Oliver Ekman-Larsson goal where Nilsson was screened by not one but three Oilers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Andrej Sekera and Darnell Nurse).

Nilsson is in Edmonton on a one-year deal so this is a bit of an experiment so far the results have been a mixed bag.

Options On The Trade Market

There are options on the market but there aren’t a whole lot  of options at this point as you’ll read below with a sample of what’s available.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Michal Neuvirth (Amy Irvin THW)

Jimmy Howard (Detroit) is playing some of the best hockey of his career, but he’s also battling for his starting job with Petr Mrazek who stole starts from him last year in the playoffs. Howard has four years remaining on a $5.29M deal. The Red Wings won’t give him up for cheap.

Michal Neuvirth (Philadelphia) has been mentioned quite frequently in the rumor mill but the fact of the matter is that the Flyers love him and he’s been lights out while Steve Mason has been out. This isn’t likely unless you were willing to pay a heavy price, Neuvirth’s value has never been higher.

James Reimer (Toronto) is one of the cheaper options available but would Edmonton want to really bring in another goaltender who isn’t a solidified and proven number one?

Maybe The Problem Isn’t The Goaltending?

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Andrej Sekera (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Now this goes against the premise but the Oilers are the third worst in the league for goals against with 54 in 17 games. The team is struggling defensively plain and simple.

You can’t pin it on one person in particular but defensively the team starts to unravel. Not only that the forwards are giving little to no support in the Oilers zone which contributes to the downward spiral defensively.

Watch the past few games and far too often the Oilers are blowing their defensive coverage and inadvertently screening their own goaltender.

Going back to the Coyotes game watch Erik Gryba allow Shane Doan to sneak in. Nilsson is out of position but still that is a preventable goal. Ditto for the Stefan Elliott goal where Nilsson is well out of the net.

It’s a combination of two weaknesses making a glaring hole in the Oilers game. There is still time to turn things around in Edmonton, it’s still early, but fan patience is really being tested by this never ending rebuild.

It’s clear the Oilers need another top four defenseman. They’ve been shopping Mark Fayne but like many other Oilers, there isn’t a whole lot of trade value. There is going to have to be a package to get the Oilers a legit top four defenseman but selling off Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin (yes remember him?), Fayne isn’t going to cut it.

Nail Yakupov might be a piece to move, possibly even Jordan Eberle but the latter is the more consistent. That said Eberle is also the one with the most value.

End of the day bringing in another goaltender might not make any difference until the Oilers sort out their play defensively. It’s taken nearly a dozen goaltenders and coaches and it’s the same problem year after year. The Oilers need to learn how to play defense. Until then a morphed megatron version of Ken Dryden, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek won’t look good behind this defense.