Stuart Skinner’s lack of playoff experience shouldn’t be a concern for the Oilers
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Cam Lewis7 months ago
Other than Connor McDavid, there’s a good argument to be made that Stuart Skinner was the Edmonton Oilers’ MVP this season.
During the early months of the season before the team found its groove, Skinner was a rock in the Oilers’ net and he played a major role in stopping things from going sideways. The Edmonton native posted a .913 save percentage over 50 games and set a franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender in a single season with 29.
On Monday, Skinner will make his first-ever playoff start in the NHL as the Oilers open up their first-round series with the Los Angeles Kings. While some might be worried about going into a playoff run with a rookie between the pipes, there are multiple examples of teams in the salary cap era winning the Stanley Cup behind an inexperienced goaltender.
The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes
Martin Gerber was the main guy for the Hurricanes in 2005-06, as he posted a 38-14-6 record over 60 games. 21-year-old rookie Cam Ward was Gerber’s backup and he struggled to a 14-8-2 record with an .882 save percentage in his first season in the NHL.
Come playoff time, Gerber allowed 13 goals across Carolina’s first two games to the Montreal Canadiens. Ward replaced him as the starter with the Habs up 2-0 in the series and Carolina came back and won the series in six games.
The Hurricanes ran Ward as their starter the rest of the way and they wound up edging out the Oilers in seven games to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Ward was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner thanks to his .920 playoff save percentage.
The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks
The Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews Blackhawks made the playoffs for the first time in 2008-09 and they rolled to the Western Conference Final with a veteran goaltending tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet. The following season, Khabibulin left to sign with the Oilers in free agency and Chicago rolled with a tandem of Huet and rookie goaltender Antti Niemi.
Despite having just 42 games of NHL experience, the Blackhawks rolled with Niemi as their starting goaltender in the playoffs in 2010. He posted a .910 save percentage as Chicago won their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
The 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury put up an excellent season for the Penguins in 2015-16, going 35-17-6 with a .921 save percentage. At the end of March, Fleury suffered a concussion in a win over the Nashville Predators. He had also suffered a concussion a few months earlier and missed multiple games.
With Fleury sidelined, the Penguins turned to 21-year-old Matt Murray, who had been putting up incredible results in the AHL. Murray played just 13 games for the Penguins during the 2015-16 regular season as a rookie and went on to lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup with a .923 save percentage over 21 playoff games.
The 2019 St. Louis Blues
The Blues looked like they were completely out of the race a few months into the 2018-19 season but things completely turned around when they called up 25-year-old goaltender Jordan Binnington from their AHL affiliate.
Binnington made a couple of appearances in relief of Jake Allen in December and his first NHL start on January 7, 2019 was a 25-save shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers. He went 24-5-1 during the regular season with a sparkling .927 save percentage and helped the Blues make the playoffs in a competitive Central Division.
Binnington continued his excellent run during the playoffs. He posted a .914 save percentage and led the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship over the Boston Bruins.
Mar 9, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) celebrates with goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) after defeating the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
What does it all mean?
The stories of the Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Penguins, and Blues serve as a reminder that teams don’t necessarily need a veteran goaltender between the pipes in order to win a championship. Cam Ward, Antti Niemi, Matt Murray, and Jordan Binnington all led their teams to the Stanley Cup despite having zero playoff experience at the NHL level.
The Oilers have a strong team, one that’s led by elite talent and anchored by quality depth. They can score goals better than anybody else, they have a much-improved blueline thanks to the addition of Mattias Ekholm, and they’ve proven in the Jay Woodcroft era that they can lock things down in tight games. All Skinner needs to do is be solid, just as he was for the team during the regular season.
The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season, of course, but Skinner has shown an ability to come through for the Oilers in big-game situations. He put up a .975 save percentage in Battle of Alberta games this season, he was rock-solid in a win against the seemingly unbeatable Bruins, and he posted a 43-save shutout in a critical Pacific Division game with the L.A. Kings.
There have been a lot of incredible stories on the Oilers this year, such as Connor McDavid leading the league in goals, assists, and points, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins reaching the 100-point plateau, and matching the franchise record with nine wins in a row to end the season. A local Edmonton product grabbing the starting goaltender job and leading the Oilers all the way would be the best story of them all — and Stuart Skinner has the ability to do it.
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