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The Day After 44.0: Is Calvin Pickard The Answer?
By Zach Laing1 month ago
Death, taxes, and the Edmonton Oilers winning hockey games.
Last night’s 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was their 15th straight as they continue to smash the previous franchise record of 10. And like many of these recent games have been, this one was a little too close for comfort, but Calvin Pickard was there for a 27-save shutout, his first in the NHL since November 2018.
Credit where it’s due, as always, as teams are clearly hungry to try and snap this skid that the Oilers are on, the longest such winning streak in franchise history. While goaltending has been a big theme over this streak, given the club’s .944 save percentage, last night it was the reason they won.
And now, one has to ask: is Calvin Pickard The Answer?
THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY
The question, of course, has been, “What are the Oilers going to do with their goaltending?” It was one that came up shortly in the season when Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell’s putrid performances didn’t help an Edmonton team who, as strange as it sounds, couldn’t score. When Jay Woodcroft was dismissed as head coach, their goaltending was maybe as bad as it’s ever been with a league-worst .864 save percentage.
That number has skyrocketed to an even .900, good enough for 14th in the league, on the season as a whole. But more notably, their team save percentage under Kris Knoblauch is a stunning .916, the second-best rate in the league since he took over as head coach of these Oilers. Stuart Skinner, of course, is a key in that, given a .924 save percentage under Knoblauch, third among starters behind Joey Daccord (.923) and Connor Hellebuyck (.940).
But make no mistake about it: Pickard has been a big part of it, too. In his eight starts, he’s posted a .915 save percentage, the 13th-best mark among goalies who have played as many minutes as him.
“We expected a tough game tonight, and they lived up to it for sure,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who helped set up Connor McDavid for the first of the game 1:37 into the second. “When we needed, we got the saves from Picksy and stuck around, played within ourselves, and stayed confident.
“Every time he’s stepped in, he’s been outstanding for us. The Detroit game, he made some huge saves to keep us in and same thing tonight.”
Case in point: his penalty shot save against Blackhawks forward MacKenzie Entwistle after Oilers defenceman Vincent Desharnais found himself in hot water. Or any of the other times when the Blackhawks came hot and heavy, firing 2.56 expected goals his way.
It’s not like Pickard has had a heavy workload in Edmonton, either. He’s played just eight games since he was recalled on November 8th — roughly one every 10 days — and looked sharp in every one of them.
But when you’ve been around the game long enough, as the 2010 2nd round pick of the Colorado Avalanche has, with 321 AHL games and 124 NHL games under his belt, nothing is new to him.
“I’ve been through this a bit before,” said Pickard. “Practice time is big for me. I get a lot of time with Schwarty (goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz) and in team practices. Getting my chance to go in today, not putting too much pressure on myself, and go from there.”
What’s clear is his calm demeanour has had an impact on the team, and the fact he’s gotten a win in five of the eight games he’s played in has been a huge help for this Oilers team.
Offence is no issue for this team, with Zach Hyman scoring last night and McDavid adding his second of the game into the empty net, and given their 3.81 goals for per hour, second in the league, under Knoblauch. Defence isn’t much of a concern, either, with their 2.3 goals against per hour second in the league over that same stretch.
It appears, too, that goaltending might not be an issue either. What’s clear is that the issues of this early-season Oilers club aren’t the same anymore. This is a completely different team.
“We’ve been striving to play like this for a long time now,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who had been on the receiving end of the Oilers Decade of Darkness. “It’s about staying around in games, and obviously goalies need to step up and make the big saves when we need them to, and they’ve been doing a great job of that.
“I think defensively, we’ve been solid. It’s not trading chances here or there, obviously we have some guys that can open games up, but we don’t need to do that every night. It’s just staying within ourselves, and trusting the process. I think it’s paying off right now.”
And given those differences, as well as the fact that the Oilers’ pro scouting staff are all meeting in Edmonton this week to discuss trade deadline plans, one has to wonder how much Pickard’s performances will impact the organizations’ deadline moves.
Pickard may have solved the question of backup goaltender woes.
This article was updated Thursday with further information.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at email@example.com.
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