Photo credit:Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Problem in the Paint
11 months ago
We know that Stuart Skinner is going to get the crease for the Edmonton Oilers when they face the Buffalo Sabres tonight to kick off a tester of a three-game road trip that’ll also include stops against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
What I’m wondering, and I’m probably not alone, is how many of the Oilers remaining 18 games we can reasonably expect Skinner to play now that the wheels have come right off Jack Campbell, with the latest example being Saturday’s 7-5 loss to the Winnipeg Jets? In simple terms, how does coach Jay Woodcroft get Skinner the rest he needs and spot in Campbell with the Oilers still needing to get points in the Pacific Division?
While I didn’t see things working out this way when the Oilers inked Campbell to a five-year deal worth $25 million, signaling he’d be the starter ahead of Skinner, here we are. Campbell, 31, today sits at 17-9-4 with a 3.57 goals-against average and a save percentage of .882 – that’s .28 under his career mark of .910. He has struggled mightily in different stretches this season, including in his last five appearances at .842, .714, .857, .895 and .826.
Skinner, 24, faces the Sabres tonight at 17-13-4 with a 2.88 GAA and .912 save percentage in 36 appearances. The tandem you and I envisioned when Ken Holland did the ink on his goaltending was Campbell as the starter and local lad Skinner as his understudy. To understate, it hasn’t worked out that way. We know that Campbell is better than this. We’ve seen it. But he’s not better right now, and there’s the rub for Woodcroft and the Oilers.
THE REST OF THE WAY
Mar 4, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Morgan Barron (36) scores on Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell (36) in the second period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
“It’s disappointing,” Campbell said after the Oilers got pumped by the Jets Saturday. “The guys played great, I’ve been working super hard, feeling good. It’s just disappointing to let them down. A couple I want back and that would have been the difference. I just know I can be so much better for this group. I’m definitely gonna keep working to get there.”
Nobody can accuse Campbell of downplaying or shrugging off subpar performances this season. He’s been as tough on himself as anybody. As far as working to get better, that’s fine and good, but the stretch drive with playoff berths to be decided is not the time. Campbell needs to get himself sorted out this off-season. And, please, let’s skip goofy talk about a buy-out. Campbell is a good goaltender. He’s having a lousy year.
If I’m calling the shots, Skinner gets the net for at least 12 of the remaining 18 games, starting with the next six games in a span of 13 days. I’d look at a breather for Skinner against San Jose on March 20 and Arizona on March 22. I’d consider starting Campbell against Arizona on March 27 on the front end of back-to-back games, then against Anaheim, on April 1, and again on April 5. Finally, I’d look at him against San Jose on April 8.
You might see it differently. So might Skinner, and any variation on the above has to be his call in concert with Woodcroft at this point of the season. If Skinner wants another game here or there to stay sharp, so be it. The Oilers have just five games in the first 13 days of April. At this point, Campbell just has to stay out of the way, ensure the Oilers get points in games they should win and let Skinner carry the mail.
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