Three Key Things: Oilersnation takes over Arizona, is it time to worry about the goaltending, and Kris Knoblauch’s line change magic

Zach Laing
1 month ago
We’ve seen for years Edmonton Oilers fans travel well.
In big games, they always show up across North America, but when Oilersnation sends a group off on a #NationVacation, it always ramps up a little bit.
Years past, we’ve heard through our TVs the chants and cheers in places like Vegas, Nashville and Seattle, but in a small barn like Arizona’s Mullett Arena Monday, it was a little different.
Never had I heard the cheers that loud in an opposing rink, and while our boots on the ground BaggedMilk told me it seemed like a 60/40 split inside the arena, it truly felt like it was a 90/10 split. At the very least, Oilers fans had more than enough to cheer for.

Goaltending woes?

One thing I’m not up for cheering for is the Oilers current goaltending.
While things have improved greatly across the entire body of work this season, there’s a concerning trend surrounding the netminding numbers. Since the start of February, the Oilers have had the fifth worst team save percentage at just .869, below the .898 league average save percentage over that stretch.
Edmonton’s gone 4-3 in those games, but they’ve also allowed 26 goals against in those seven, allowing the fourth most goals against of any team.
These downward trends aren’t exactly new to the Oilers. Last year, Stuart Skinner’s first as a No. 1 netminder, saw the club have a similar downturn in their team numbers in February. The peaks weren’t quite as high in that 2022-23 season, but the drop off ended up just as low, albeit a few weeks later than this.
Last year, we saw a bottom-out in early March before a solid rebound through the rest of it and into the Oilers’ six regular season games in April. But come the playoffs, it fell apart of them again. Among all the teams who made it through two rounds of the post-season, the Oilers’ .889 goaltending was second worst to only the New Jersey Devils.
Skinner’s having a down year this season whn you look at his save percentage, and goals saved above average, but the truth of the matter is he’s carried this team more nights than not — even if he’s looked rocky as he has in February.
When the Oilers’ team save percentage bottomed out in early March, a big part of it was from a 4-4-3 stretch from Feb. 12 through March 4 where Jack Campbell got five starts. He went 0-1-3 in them with a dismal .845 save percentage.
So as the Oilers experience some woes regarding their defensive game and goaltending, with Skinner letting in more weak ones than not as of late, the question comes up again: should the Oilers be worried about their goaltending?
What kind of results could the Oilers get from Calvin Pickard if over this upcoming five-game home stand, he got four of them? Skinner is still a young netminder who has shown fatigue issues in the past.
Maybe now’s the time to figure that out.

Knobby on the lines

As far as the line blender goes, you can tell Kris Knoblauch isn’t a huge fan. When he replaced Jay Woodcroft early in the season, the Oilers had been rotating lines on a nightly basis trying to find anything that could work.
It rarely worked, and when Knoblauch came in, one of the things he spoke about was trying to find some consistency in them.
“I know it’s important if you come in mid-season, you can only do so much on changing the systems, and lines,” he said in his introductory press conference. “The players have to have some stability, and there are some things as a coach you want to put your stamp on. This is really important for me.”
Put a stamp on it he has, as by in large, he’s kept a lot of lines together. We’ve seen Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman get lots of runways. Evander Kane and Leon Draisaitl have become conjoined at the hip, despite a rotating cast beside them. Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele — whether with Draisaitl or on the third line — have largely stuck together.
But Monday afternoon’s game was another where he made minor tweaks to things, bumping McLeod up alongside Draisaitl and Kane, and the move paid off. Two goals from Evander Kane in the third were the difference maker.
“Ryan’s played so well with Leon through the month of January being on the left side,” said Knoblauch after Monday’s game. “I think a lot of it is not only having the confidence and making plays, but also having the speed to break up plays, get on the forecheck, recover the puck. He does a lot of those little things really well, and it paid off tonight.”
We’ve seen Oilers coaches use and abuse the line blender in the past, but that’s not Knoblauch’s way. Even when lines get mixed up part way through a game, he’ll often keep them that way going into the next. That’s part of the reason why we saw Draisaitl, McDavid and Corey Perry playing together yesterday.
As the Oilers prepare to take on the Bruins Wednesday, it will be interesting to see which configurations he goes with.

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 zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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