Why Oilers are starting wrong goalie in Game 4 against Stars

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers
Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Kris Knoblauch announced on Tuesday that Stuart Skinner will be the Edmonton Oilers starting goalie against the Dallas Stars in Game 4 the Western Conference Final at home on Wednesday.

It’s a controversial decision, to say the least.

Hockey coaches often refer to “riding the hot hand” when choosing their starting playoff goalie.

The Oilers pose a difficult question – who is their hot hand? Skinner or Calvin Pickard? Or is there no hot hand?

Two weeks ago, the Oilers found themselves down 2-1 in the Western Conference Second Round against the Vancouver Canucks. Skinner, the Oilers No. 1 goalie and 2023 NHL All-Star, was in the midst of a complete meltdown between the pipes. 

Throughout the first two games of the series, Skinner posted a brutal .814 save percentage and, had it not been for an OT winner in Game 2 from defenseman Evan Bouchard, Edmonton likely would have found themselves down 2-0, instead of even 1-1.

Game 3 was the last straw for Knoblauch, after Skinner allowed four goals on 15 shots in another loss. He was pulled in the third period and replaced by Pickard. 

Skinner’s postseason goals-against average fell to 4.63 and his save percentage fell below .900, despite backstopping a five-game series win against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.

Luckily for the Oilers, Pickard rose to the occasion in the next two contests. Playing to a tune of a 2.21 GAA and a respectable .915 save percentage, Pickard played some of his best hockey to date, with a win and loss in Games 4 and 5.

Pickard also provided a steady stream of saves during the regular season, including a 40-save shutout on March 10th, in which he baffled Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The stat lines show that Pickard has narrowly been the better goaltender this year, although he played in 36 fewer games than Skinner. 

Through the 82- game regular season, Pickard eclipsed Skinner’s goals-against average by nearly half a goal, and held a higher save percentage by five points.

To Skinner’s credit, he played much better in the final two games of the Vancouver series, allowing only three goals on 33 shots when the Oilers rallied from 3-2 down to win the series.

Related: Sheldon Keefe gets ‘fresh start’ and similar expectations with Devils

Stuart Skinner exposed on low-danger shot attempts for Oilers

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Montreal Canadiens
Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently the evidence isn’t substantial enough to give Pickard the nod in Game 4 of the West Final. Still, one important stat jumps off the page in Pickard’s defense.

Low-danger shot attempts. 

Pickard, at a .974 save percentage on those opportunities, has the starter beat by 25 points. Skinner has the seventh worst low-danger save percentage of all NHL goalies this season. 

We saw that very issue come to haunt the Oilers late in Game 3 against the Stars, when Dallas forward Jason Robertson scored a hat trick by taking advantage of Skinner, who was improperly hugging the goalpost with his skate.

A simple bank-shot off the back of the Edmonton netminder’s pad from a poor angle allowed the Stars to take a 4-3 lead late in the third period. Dallas won 5-3 and leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.

If Skinner’s skate was locked into the goal post, rather than resting against it, Game 3 could’ve gone to overtime.

“I tried my best in the quickness of the situation … that’s something I’ve gotta save,” Skinner admitted following the loss.

The consistency from the Oilers’ starter has been absent.

Skinner’s flashy pad saves (and superior high-danger save percentage) are fun to watch, but Knoblauch would certainly rather have a dependable goaltender in net..

Logic pointed to Pickard being the change that Edmonton needs.

The Oilers need that reliability on savable shots, Pickard could provide that.

It worked in Game 4 against Vancouver, why not try it in Game 4 in Dallas?

Despite that, Knoblauch is keen to give Skinner a chance at redemption. Let’s see if it costs the Oilers a shot to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in the Connor McDavid era.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: