Calvin Pickard makes his case to remain as Oilers backup goalie

It was long assumed the Edmonton Oilers would like to trade for a goalie upgrade, but Calvin Pickard's play has moved this need down the list of priorities.
Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers
Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

As the Oilers got off to the worst start in team history through 12 games and fourth-worst start through 18, the defensive effort was at an all-time low. At certain points early on, they had the worst team save percentage in the NHL and allowed the second-most goals.

Even as the team in general and the defensive play in particular improved, doubts remained. The belief was that Stuart Skinner was carrying too much of the load and that the Oilers should trade for a tandem goalie or quality backup to help him out.

However, as the season's progressed, Calvin Pickard has emerged as a solid option between the pipes. Often described as talented but inconsistent, he's offering the type of play which makes the Oilers' need for another goalkeeper not quite as pressing.

Pickard does his thing

Some understandable concerns remain that Skinner is starting too much, perhaps alluding to coach Kris Knoblauch still not entirely trusting his backup. However, the reality remains that when Pickard does play, for the most part he's performed well.

Things didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts for the 2010 second round draft pick, when he allowed four goals in his first start for the Oilers after taking over from the embattled Jack Campbell as the backup. Since then however, he's been solid.

On the season, Pickard has a 8-3-0 record in 11 starts. In 12 overall appearances, he has recorded a 2.40 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .909 save percentage.

Of course this is only a small sample size, but compared to NHL teams as a whole, the 31-year-old's GAA is third-lowest, while his save percentage is tied-10th best. In terms of comparing him to regular backups this season, his GAA is fourth-lowest, and his save percentage is 11th-best.

Excellent versus Sidney Crosby and co.

The latest example of Pickard's fine play in net, came on Sunday in a 6-1 home win versus the Penguins. On the night he stopped all but one of the 23 shots he faced, and there was nothing he could have done on the one the visitors did score, as it took an unusual bounce.

Admittedly the former Toronto Maple Leaf didn't have the most stressful of games, but he still came up big when needed. He went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, while also making a key stop on Evgeni Malkin when the Penguins still -- theoretically at least -- had a chance of getting back into the contest.

Due to the condensed makeup of the remainder of the Oilers' schedule of 23 games, they have five back-to-backs and several two-games-in-three-days scenarios. This should equate to more playing time for Pickard, which means increased pressure to perform and help his team qualify for the playoffs in as strong a position as possible.

For his part though, the Moncton, New Bruinswick native is excited about the additional playing time. Speaking to the media following the Penguins game, he said: "For sure. We'll see what the next few weeks brings, but we're not looking too far ahead. ... A condensed schedule's good for me. We need both guys going, so we've got to keep this rolling."

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There's still plenty to play for. The Oilers have games in hand on the four teams above them in the Western Conference standings and play each of them at least once more. (They will face the Colorado Avalanche twice.)

Given the Oilers' form, they actually have the opportunity to finish with an even better record than last season, when they had 50 wins for the first time since 1986-87. However, if they are to do this, Pickard will play a key part; this is the chance he's been waiting his entire NHL career for, so it's up to him to show what he's capable of.

NB: All statistics up to and including Mar. 3 2024

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