Jack Campbell Must Play Better

Photo credit:© James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
The Edmonton Oilers don’t need Jack Campbell to be their starter, because Stuart Skinner has played better and been much more consistent this season. But the Oilers need Campbell to give them decent starts down the stretch. He doesn’t have to be great. He just can’t allow four goals every game like he has over his past five starts.
Campbell’s season has been both disappointing and unpredictable. He struggled in his first 16 starts, found his groove for nine starts, before crashing into the abyss for the most recent five.
Twenty-seven goalies have started 30+ games this season. The Oilers are the only team with two goalies with 30+ starts. Skinner has started 35 games while Campbell has started 30. Skinner is currently tied for 21st in starts with Logan Thompson. Skinner hasn’t been overworked, and him starting 11 or 12 of the final 17 games would not fatigue him. You could argue it would be best to get him used to playing more so he can handle playing every game in the playoffs. He’s ready for it, and that is a good thing for Campbell and the Oilers.
Edmonton doesn’t need Campbell to salvage their season, but they need him to be reliable. The Oilers’ record in his 30 starts is 17-9-4 and his individual numbers are .882Sv% and 3.57 GAA. Here is a breakdown of his splits this season.
CampbellRecordSv% and GAA GP w/ .905Sv%+GP w/.904 or lower
Oct 7th – Dec 31st (16 starts)8-7-1.876 and 3.904-1 (.925Sv%, 2.40 GAA)4-6-1 (.850Sv%, 4.37 GAA)
Jan 1st – Feb 11th (9 starts)9-0.917 and 2.325-0 (.937Sv%, 1.80GAA)4-0 (.899Sv%, 3.00 GAA)
Feb 15th – Mar 4th (5 starts)0-1-3.845 and 5.17NA0-3-1 (.845Sv, 5.17 GAA)
In three of his wins, when he had a .904Sv% or lower in the first three months of the season, he allowed four, four and five goals. I understand winning is all that matters, but he wasn’t playing great despite picking up victories.
In his middle nine games when he went 9-0, he never allowed more than three goals in any game. He allowed three v. TB and Vegas, but I thought he played very well in those games. The only really weak goal he allowed was the Brannstrom goal v. Ottawa, and the Oilers won that game 6-3.
In the recent five games, he’s allowed 24 goals. The Oilers scored 23 goals and lost all five games. Campbell was pulled in Columbus (and didn’t get the L despite Stuart Skinner entering the game down 4-0, due to the NHL’s odd rule) after allowing four goals on 14 shots. The entire team was bad early on, but he didn’t make a stop when they needed it. The recent five games have been brutal.
In 20 of his 30 starts this season he’s had a save% below .905. I used .905 as that is the league average. I don’t expect the goalie to be great every night, so I used the league average.
Campbell has allowed four+ goals in 13 of his 30 starts (43.3%).
Skinner has allowed four+ goals in 7 of his 35 starts (20%).
Campbell hasn’t been as consistent, and it is why I expect Skinner to be the starter down the stretch. Skinner has started 53.8% of the Oilers’ games to date. He should start 70.5% (12 of 17) the rest of the way. Maybe it is 11 if the Oilers have secured home-ice advantage for the final few games.
But Edmonton can’t afford to go 0-2-3 in Campbell’s five starts. He needs to be better. I asked goalie analyst from In Goal Magazine and NHL.com, Kevin Woodley, his thoughts on Campbell’s recent play and what needs to change.
Jason Gregor: Are you seeing any significant technical issues for him lately?
Kevin Woodley: You know, it’s funny, this is the thing that I talked about even when they signed him, when it goes hot and when it goes cold, I don’t find huge gaps, like huge discrepancies when he’s playing well to the eye test. Like yeah, he shrinks a little bit, he tends to retreat a little bit from the top of his crease and start playing three quarter depth, the playing small thing at times behind screens he’ll shrink behind screens rather than get up close to them, try to find his sight line over his shoulder. As much as there were tough deflections the other night (Winnipeg), a lot of deflections he’s guilty on that.
There is always going to be a bit of backwards drift to his game. The line for him, from an eye test and technical, it doesn’t look different. It really seems to be so often about confidence which was kind of a caveat that I threw in when they signed him, and we saw it last year in Toronto during the six-week stretch he was the worst goalie in the NHL. And when I took an extensive deep dive look at the video then, the differences between his early season hot streak and the bad six weeks were just him getting beaten on shots.
And so, positioning, the way that he moved, a lot of those things didn’t change. He’s a guy that relies a lot on how he feels. And feeling good about his game. And that in some ways makes the job even tougher for goalie coach Dustin Schwartz because it’s not like there are glaring technical errors.
Yes, sometimes he drifts back, sometimes he retreats behind screens, sometimes he gets a little low on the thighs, he kind of sinks his butt down into the back of his pads, and that’s when I think that you see people say that he looks smaller. But even when you fix those things, the difference between hot and cold Jack Campbell is largely between the ears as opposed to anything glaring between the pipes and that’s why it becomes a tough fix, and it becomes just a bit of a tough deal.
It doesn’t look that much different, so it can be a little troubling in terms of how we solve this, how do we fix this when it’s all so much between the ears so much as it is between the pipes. Maybe get him a little more assertive at the top of the crease, but that’s easier said than done for a lot of guys when they’re not feeling confident right?
It’s a tough one, and it almost sounds like a copout, like you’re supposed to be the goalie guy, why can’t you spot it? But to me, this has just always been a big part of Jack Campbell’s game. This is sort of the conundrum that is Jack Campbell.
Feb 11, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators right wing Alex DeBrincat (12) shoots on Edmonton Oilers goalie Jack Campbell (36) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
If there isn’t much technique change from when he is playing well and when he isn’t, then why does he look smaller, or appear to look so much smaller, when he is struggling?
Woodley: So a part of it is just where on the ice, where you are in the crease, not to go old school, we’re not going out to the bottom of the hash marks and kicking our skates up and carrying pucks into the corner, but you know the difference between two thirds up your crease and even at the front edge of the crease with your skates in terms of what the puck sees and in terms of what players see, in terms of what you’re seeing after a goal, and being halfway back in your crease and I would argue even more so, retreating as the puck comes into your crease, especially again in traffic. To me, that is what makes him look that much smaller.
Physically, biomechanically I talked about sort of sitting down when you lose that height in your thighs, so if you are on your knees and you’re in the butterfly and you keep your hips up tall sort of high thighs, tall hips, you’re going to present bigger even when you are down on your knees.
I do find, and this comes with the backwards drift, like think about it, if you’re drifting back in a goalie stance, you tend to be rocking back on your heels a little bit. If you are retreating whether it’s because you can’t find a puck in traffic, and there was a lot of that against Winnipeg, or you are retreating because you don’t feel confident? Guys go two ways when they don’t feel good about their game. Some guys get super aggressive, Marc-Andre Fleury used to do that. His mindset used to be, ‘I feel like crap so I’m going to get myself as close to the puck as I can.’ Sometimes ridiculously so with his aggression. Other guys, it’s like ‘I can’t see it, I’m not feeling it, I’m just going to retreat back to the goal line and hope that it hits me.’
And I think that he’s not quite on the goal line but he’s sinking in that direction. If you shrink back in your crease from a positioning standpoint, you tend to sit back with your weight on your heels and as you drop into the butterfly the tendency, when your weight is on your heels, two things happen; your butterfly narrows, so you lose that width. And that width having your legs out beside you and having those skates planted makes it a little easier to stay tall in the thighs. When your feet come in behind you because of that weight on your heels, backwards drift, narrow butterfly the tendency then is as you drop to then also sit down on your butt and lower it almost into the back of your skates.
And again, all of these things are going to make you look small. And Jack’s never played a big game anyways, but he’s going to look even smaller when you combine that retreated positioning and sitting down a little bit in terms of the biomechanics of his stance and narrowing up that butterfly to get his weight on his heels as he drifts backwards.
So how do they improve it? Can a significant change happen this year or will it occur in the off-season?
Woodley: Man, this is the tough one. Like last year like I said, he went through a six-week stretch where he was undeniably, statistically, the worst goalie in the NHL. And I’m looking at his adjusted numbers right now because I wanted to look, I pulled up his scouting report because I wanted to see is there something that jumps out, glaring, something that’s killing him. Screens are definitely not good, it’s one of his worst statistical elements right now. A night like the other night where you see him retreat behind the tips and deflections, screens are a part of that right?
But there is not a single positive, there is not a single category out of all of the different shot types that Clear Sight Analytics tracks where Jack Campbell is above expected. All of the micro-stats, he’s below expected, so I don’t know where you fix this except to say, and again, not to sound like I’m beating a dead horse here, so much of this starts with confidence here for him and where does he find his confidence. Man, I don’t know if I would be calling a former goalie coach or a sports psychologist at this point.
Dusty Imoo? Maybe call Dusty.
Woodley: When you talk to Dusty about their work together, it was mostly about feeling good. It was more about mindset than it was about anything technical. And Dusty will be the first one to tell you that. And I don’t know if Jack works with a sports psychologist, I don’t think that he does. To be honest, having talked to some people around him, I think that he just goes to old goalies, to coaches. I spent an hour with a sports psychologist from Sweden who had 30 or 40 goalie clients and he actually breaks guys down. He does personality tests first and then he does stress tests so that they can understand how their personality reacts to specific stresses and how it manifests itself in their body.
For a lot of guys, it’s tension in the hands, and in the feet which tension is the enemy of goaltenders, it tends to lock us up and lose a lot of that feel and mobility that a guy like Jack Campbell relies so heavily on. So, I’m not saying that that is necessarily the answer, but they have to find one here. And like I said, technically, all of these little details, yeah, you can pick and chip away at them and hopefully get him feeling good and get him playing better, but it just feels like every time that I talk to people who have been around him in the past, it’s just as much about feeling good as it is about breaking down biomechanics, or breaking down his tactics or his technique. It’s not about the Xs and Os of goaltending as much as it is just about finding him in a spot where it feels good.
Those are a lot of new things for Jack Campbell to wrap his head around at a time when he was coming off of a season that had just massive swings in performance. Because he’s such a good guy, everyone hopes that they get this figured out, and I think that they will because he’s a better goalie than this. He’s a lot better than he has shown this year and there is enough of a track record of playing better than he is showing this year. I believe that he is a better goaltender than this. I just think that maybe the exceptions of what that contract said he would be were never going to be realistic and that might be a part of what is snowballing here between the ears as much as between the pipes.


He did earlier this season in January. He needs to do it again, but unlike in January, I don’t expect him to get the bulk of the starts. He will need to find consistency without significant playing time. It is more challenging, but right now Skinner is playing better, and has been more consistent all season. Campbell shouldn’t focus on needing to be the Saviour or the starter, just be reliable when called upon.


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