Anders Nilsson misses his chance to keep the heat on Cam Talbot

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On Friday night, Anders Nilsson took a sterling record into a game against the Washington Capitals. He’d been perfect in the preseason and the Oilers’ best player in both of his regular season starts, and was steadily playing his way into competition with Cam Talbot.

Then he allowed six goals on 17 shots and became the first pulled goaltender of Todd McLellan’s tenure as coach.

McLellan was asked in his post-game presser on Friday whether Nilsson was a victim of what happened in front of him.

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“Yeah, I think he was,” he agreed. “You could say now getting one big save at any given moment may not have made a difference, but it might have earlier, but by no means is it an indictment of his play. We were sloppy around him for a lot of the minutes.”

It’s both a diplomatic answer and a fair one. Given the way Edmonton’s defence, and in particular its top pairing, collapsed against Washington it’s pretty hard to hang the loss on the goaltender. It would also be kind of a silly thing for the coach to do if he plans to use that goalie again in the not-too-distant future.

Even so, it’s tough to miss the caveat. The NHL average in shootouts the last few years has seen goalies turn aside roughly two out of every three shots they face, with the really great ones (Marc-Andre Fleury, Henrik Lundqvist) stopping three out of four. However bad the defensive breakdowns were, they weren’t all breakaways and some of the responsibility for Nilsson’s performance rests on Nilsson’s shoulders.

The Long-Term Track Record

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Nilsson’s season-by-season work over the past five years looks like this:

  • 2010-11, SEL: 31GP, 0.918 SV% (partner David Rautio had a 0.904 SV%)
  • 2011-12, AHL: 25GP, 0.921 SV% (partner Kevin Poulin had a 0.912 SV%)
  • 2012-13, AHL: 21GP, 0.899 SV% (partner Kevin Poulin had a 0.904 SV%)
  • 2013-14, AHL/NHL: 21GP, 0.899 SV%/19GP, 0.896 SV% (partners Ken Reiter/Evgeni Nabokov had 0.897 and 0.905 save percentages, respectively)
  • 2014-15, KHL: 38GP, 0.936 SV% (partner Emil Garipov had a 0.933 SV%)

There’s a mix of good and bad there, but it’s worth noting how he compared to his teammates. He went back and forth with Poulin, who at the age of 25 is a pretty run-of-the-mill No. 3 goalie. He wasn’t good in the NHL. His KHL season was excellent but he wasn’t obviously better than his partner Garipov, either.

Nilsson is big, he’s relatively young, and he’s shown flashes in Europe and in the AHL. There might be a player there. On the other hand, he’s also been quite poor for long stretches in the AHL and he hasn’t proven anything in the majors. His track record lends itself to multiple interpretations, and so it’s vital that he establish himself early as a legitimate major-league goalie.

He’s started well, but one bad game against Washington has obliterated much of that progress; he’s now 1-2-0 with a 0.902 save percentage on the season. The final paragraph from yesterday’s post on Nilsson applies as well today as it did when he was riding high 24 hours ago:

The true measure of goaltending comes over the long haul, not over these short runs of games. But goaltending is also path-dependent, and goalies who play well in the early going tend to be the only goalies who get a chance to build long-term track records in the NHL. Having Nilsson play well is valuable for the Oilers, because it gives them two legitimate options, but it’s also vitally important for Nilsson. If he is to push past the backup designation, he has to do so right now.

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Another bad game or two would make it hard for McLellan to do anything other than lean on Cam Talbot. More than that could well put Nilsson’s job in jeopardy; the Oilers have both Ben Scrivens (who, we should note, surrendered five goals in his first AHL game) and Laurent Brossoit waiting in the minors and either could plausibly be the club’s backup goalie in the near future if Nilsson opens the door.

It perhaps isn’t fair, but these early games matter a ton for Nilsson. He hurt himself with a bad performance against Washington, but he needs to bounce back and quickly. His NHL position isn’t secure beyond this season; it isn’t even secure for the duration of this year.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Anton CP

    I won’t even criticise the Ds that much also, they are not good enough to contain the best offense in the league. The truth is that collectively the Oilers’ Ds maybe range around from mediocre to bad compare to the rest of the league, they are just better than last year which was atrocious.

    I think, as long as the Oilers can win games against their own division and beat teams that they should be able to beat then it will still consider as a huge success.

    So, R-E-L-A-X.

  • Kosmic Burrito

    I was thinking, maybe we need to shake things up a touch, and I think that this trade would benefit both clubs. We should offer the Islanders Eberle, Schultz, and the 2016 2nd round pick for Okposo, and Hamonic. New York would get a great scoring winger to compliment Tavares, and we would get an excellent 2 Way defender in Hamonic. Not too mention the added grit that Okposo would add to the top 6. Schultz and Okposo are both on expiring deals as well, as Hamonic and Eberle are signed for 4 or 5 more years each. Plus the 2nd rounder is an added bonus for taking Jultz 😉
    Just a thought…it would definitely fit Chia’s “heavier on the puck” mantra…

  • TRAIN#97

    Just a side note ..Sam Gagner is on pace for 64 points.Hopefully he turns things around in Philly.

    Too much talent for this guy not to be a player in the NHL.

  • TRAIN#97

    I don’t think Purcell is that bad and he gets a raw deal on here, but would you take Gagner back and have McLellan work with him and turn him into a complete player?

  • Himynameistaylor

    If you’re only going to use save percentage to evaluate the goalie’s performance then don’t bother watching, just look for the boxscore after the game

    sorry, a big save would’ve been huge but Nilsson didn’t let one bad goal in the six

    Caps took advantage of some porous team defence by the Oilers
    Save percentage doesn’t reflect that