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Getting things sorted in the Oilers’ blue paint

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
7 months ago
I can’t say I’d ever thought of the Edmonton Oilers goaltending situation as a “living, breathing thing that’ll adjust over time,” before coach Jay Woodcroft described it that way this week, but when I look at how last season played out with Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell, he’s pretty much on the money.
We know Campbell came into camp from Toronto a year ago pegged as the starter based on experience and his five-year $25-million contract, while Skinner was the local kid making good as his backup. When Campbell struggled, Skinner took the crease and stood in long enough to make 50 appearances. When Skinner faltered in the playoffs, Campbell stepped in. In limited minutes, he was the better stopper. I didn’t see that coming.
Here we are with two games left in pre-season, including tonight against the Calgary Flames, and the Oilers still aren’t sorted in the crease. Campbell has people talking with two wins and 66 saves on 68 shots. He’s looked like the player GM Ken Holland expected when he handed over all that term and money. If Campbell hasn’t been the best story at camp, he’s certainly close. Skinner, who starts tonight, not so much.
There’s no downside to the way Campbell has bounced back, but while most roster calls will be made by the time the puck drops for points against the Vancouver Canucks next Wednesday, I’m not sure Woodcroft has decided who his starter will be. And even after he gets that figured out, there’s no guarantee that doesn’t change just as it did a year ago. There’s your living, breathing thing.

WHAT THEY SAY

Apr 17, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings in game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place.
“I don’t think that I have all the information to make that decision just yet,” Woodcroft said Tuesday. “I’m not gonna lay out my process in making that decision. We’re realists and we understand that we need both goalies. It’s a two-goalie league now. We have 1A and 1B, and they’re going to sort out who’s who.
“I think both have had really good moments in the pre-season. Just because somebody starts opening night, doesn’t mean that they have anything handed to them. Last year, certainly the goalie that started out opening night didn’t play in the last game of the year, so . . . it’s a living breathing thing that’ll adjust over time.”
I don’t see any negatives to having Campbell, 31, and Skinner, 24, pushing each other for playing time all season long if it works out that way. In a lot of cases, the separation between starter and backup is obvious, but I don’t see that here. At least not yet.
“I learned so much last year and worked super hard this summer on so many things,” Campbell said. “It’s just fun to be back. This group’s hungry and there’s nothing better than being around a bunch of guys that are craving winning, so we’re just enjoying ourselves right now and trying to get ready each day for regular season.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

“They both are going get another (pre-season) game here to sort that out,” Woodcroft said. “I think (Campbell) went into the summer with a clear frame of mind on what he wanted to get better at . . . he’s in a good headspace, he’s in a good physical space.
“What a guy to be partnered up with. Our job is to make sure that on opening night we pick the right 12 forwards, the right seven D, and the right goaltenders.”
Sure. The right goaltenders are Campbell and Skinner – with the caveat that the pecking order is subject to change.

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