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Off the Top of My Head: Tough loss in Tampa, Jack Campbell’s AHL struggles, and Ken Hitchcock

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
3 months ago
Teams can mitigate many deficiencies in their game – a power play gone cold, a leaky penalty kill or a lack of scoring at even-strength – and still get by here and there. What you’ll almost never see is a team overcome consistently bad goaltending to win with regularity. That’s Captain Obvious material because it’s true.
The Edmonton Oilers proved that again when they did a 2-9-1 faceplant with Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell taking turns running save percentages of 8-something. It’s a sieve-like stretch that began with Skinner and Campbell each allowing four goals in an 8-1 drubbing in Vancouver on opening night. It didn’t end until Campbell was demoted to AHL Bakersfield after a 3-2 loss to the feeble San Jose Sharks.
While Campbell was still getting lip up in the AHL through four starts and is struggling to find his game, Skinner had been going the other way. He’d posted three straight wins with a combined .943 save percentage after a 4-3 OT win over Seattle Wednesday. Skinner had a tough go Saturday in a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning to kick off a four-game road trip.
It wasn’t all Skinner or course – the Oilers got back-to-back hat-tricks from Zach Hyman and Evander Kane and finally managed some third-period scoring along the way – but his 81 saves on 86 shots in that stretch going into Tampa Bay has been square one in getting things turned around. With that kind of goaltending, the Oilers have a chance to be contenders. Without it, like what we saw against the Bolts, there’s no way.

WHAT THEY SAY

Nov 18, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) passes the puck to ]Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) as he scored a goal against the Edmonton Oilersduring the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
The Oilers weren’t as good as they needed to be for the first 40 minutes Wednesday, but Skinner stayed in the fight long enough, including making a terrific glove save late in the third period, to help get the Oilers to overtime. This last stretch has been the flipside of some decent efforts undone by lousy goaltending.
“Yeah, it’s definitely improved,” Skinner said. “It’s got a lot better. And at the same time, the guys in front of me have been doing just a fantastic job . . . just huge credit to the guys in front of me.”
“I’ve been very impressed,” coach Kris Knoblauch said of Skinner after getting his second win behind the bench. “I think he’s played really well. I think the chances that we gave up, and he only gave up three tonight, he played really well. That’s two games I’ve seen him play and been very happy. Obviously, we would like him to continue what he’s doing.”

CHARGES EXTREMELY RARE

The arrest of Matt Petgrave of the Sheffield Steelers in connection with the death of Adam Johnson of the Nottingham Panthers, who died as the result of a skate cut to the neck in a collision between the players Oct. 28, is an extremely rare event involving an on-ice incident. So are criminal charges, which have not been laid in this case by South Yorkshire Police. These are the most recent incidents involving charges at the NHL level:
March 8, 2004. Todd Bertuzzi of Vancouver sucker-punched Steve Moore of Colorado from behind in retaliation for his Feb. 16 hit on Canucks’ captain Markus Naslund. Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm (and suspended 20 games). He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service. Moore, who sustained three broken vertebrae in his neck and never played again, subsequently sued Bertuzzi and the Canucks for damages and reached a settlement in Sept. 2014.
Feb. 21, 2000. Marty McSorley of Boston slashed Vancouver’s Donald Brashear on the side of the head from behind. Angry that Brashear mocked him earlier in the game after getting the better of him in a fight and then refused a rematch, McSorley tracked him down the ice and clubbed him from behind. Brashear fell to the ice unconscious. McSorley was suspended for 23 games. He pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and was sentenced to 18 months of probation. The game was McSorley’s last in the NHL.
Jan. 6, 1988. Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars didn’t like the way Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie Luke Richardson took him out on the boards. Ciccarelli, a smaller but aggressive player, went after Richardson with his stick. Ciccarelli was suspended 10 games and charged and convicted of assault.

ABOUT JACK

Oct 24, 2023; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell (36) makes a save against the Minnesota Wild in the second period at Xcel Energy Center.
It’s been tough watching Campbell struggle for most of his time with the Oilers and especially since being sent to Bakersfield – he is 0-3 and has given up 13 goals on 72 shots for a save percentage of .819 and a 4.36 GAA.
I get it that fans are frustrated because Campbell got a big ticket and he hasn’t come close to justifying the dollars or term, but I wouldn’t write him off yet despite how bad he’s looked. I’ve seen this before and I’ve seen guys bounce back when it looked like they’d lost their game and it wouldn’t be coming back.
Devan Dubnyk comes to mind. After seasons of .916, .914 and .921 with the Oilers, he slipped to .894 in 2013-14. The Oilers dealt him to Nashville. He was later sent to Montreal, where he played on the AHL farm in Hamilton before he landed in Arizona and finally found his game. From there, Dubnyk signed on with Minnesota, where he played 328 games over six seasons at a tidy .918 clip. He won the 2015 Masterton Trophy.
This isn’t to say Campbell will follow the same path because so much of playing his position is mental and he might be done, but if I’m Jeff Jackson, I’m taking a long look before I start calculating a buy-out and moving on. That might turn out to be the best course of action down the road, but there’s time to make that call.

HITCH IN THE HALL

Terrific interview here with recent HHOF inductee Ken Hitchcock on the Ray&Dregs Podcast. A special tip of the cap in here for former Pittsburgh and Detroit scout Bruce Haralson, one of Hitch’s biggest boosters in Kamloops of the WHL as he was working his way up the ranks. Hitch starts at about the 19:00 mark.

AKEY DONE FOR THE SEASON

Tough news about Oilers prospect Beau Akey, who dislocated his shoulder playing for the OHL’s Barrie Colts and will miss the rest of the season after surgery to repair the damage. Akey, taken 56th overall by the Oilers in the 2023 Entry Draft, had scored 4-5-9 in 14 games with the Colts when he was injured.

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