It was Connor McDavid who stole the show with yet another cheat code goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, but it was Stuart Skinner who set the table and sealed the deal with 46 saves in a 2-1 shootout win for the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place.
We’ve come to expect the highlight reel stuff McDavid showed again with the outrageous 1-1 goal he scored against the Jets, but we’re only five career NHL games into our look at Skinner, a 23-year-old stopper from right here in Edmonton looking to carve out a niche in his hometown.
For now, Skinner is just trying to prove that he deserves a chance to stick around a while longer and find out where he fits in the mix with injured Mike Smith and back-up Mikko Koskinen, whose inability to take on any significant workload without imploding at some point has opened the door for him.
While it’s way too early to know how that’s going to play out in the long term, what Skinner is showing GM Ken Holland, coach Dave Tippett and his teammates now with efforts like last night is certainly going to earn him a longer look. The rest will take care of itself, as it always does.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” said Skinner, who spent a plenty of time sitting on the bench when Smith was out with an injury to start last season, getting into just one game. “I think the whole team played a fantastic game. We were really good defensively, and it was a good game.”
I hadn’t seen much of Skinner at all before he got his only start of last season. That came Jan. 31 against the Ottawa Senators. While he got the win in an 8-5 decision, his NHL debut didn’t exactly scream “I’m here to stay.” He’s been a lot better through his four appearances, three of them starts, this season. His numbers reflect that, and he simply looks more composed
With Smith out again and Koskinen taking most of the load, Skinner has put in the work to stay sharp. He also made some technical changes to his stance with goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz. I won’t pretend to know that I even noticed before Skinner spoke about it, but his numbers since then don’t lie.
“I think anybody who gets into a flow or rhythm in preparation, you just kind of end up feeling out the game a bit more, which obviously as a backup goalie is a little bit tougher because you don’t get as many starts and have to prepare through practice,” Skinner said. “I definitely feel better playing more games and it’s been nice getting back in there.
“Stance-wise, I think just being taller in my stance when there’s traffic. In this league, I found that out pretty quick playing against Ottawa in my first game. I think what helped me a lot and being a lot calmer in the net now is not having to be always ready, and I can stand up and look around guys.
“Instead, I thought I had to look around guys kind of being low. I think that hurt a little bit playing against Ottawa and it was a very quick learning lesson. Being able to come back this year, now I know I can be a bit more relaxed and taller looking around guys up high. I think that’s been a huge help.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
At some point, Smith will return from the nagging leg injury that’s kept him out. At 39, Smith is the starter when he’s healthy. While Koskinen has shown capable of putting in some good work as long as Tippett doesn’t overwork him, I can’t imagine he will be in the plans when his contract is up after this season. There’s still a lot of hockey to play between now and then.
Where that leaves Skinner in the long term, we don’t know for certain yet, but what I’ve seen lately from the hometown boy who is trying to make good has me wanting to see more. I’m guessing many of you feel the same way. The way I see it, a start against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday works just fine.
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Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Don’t Lose the Plot
- Off the Top of My Head
- Different This Time
- Start Me Up
- Off the Top of My Head
- At Long Last No. 4