Oilers must make sure they use Calvin Pickard in WCF versus Stars

While Stuart Skinner was in net for games six and seven against the Canucks, the Oilers still need to make sure they utilise Calvin Pickard in the next round.
Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Four
Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Four / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

The Edmonton Oilers fan base let out a collective sigh of relief on Monday night, as their team held on for a 3-2 win versus the Vancouver Canucks. In many ways game seven epitomised what was an extremely tense and closely-fought series, but the most important thing is that they advanced to the second Western Conference Final of the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era.

One of the key decisions by Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch, was to start Stuart Skinner in two consecutive elimination games. It ultimately proved to be the right call, as the Oilers won both games with the Edmonton native between the pipes.

At the same time it was still also a ballsy move by Knoblauch, given how Skinner had struggled in his first three starts of the second round series versus the Canucks. He allowed 12 combined goals on just 58 shots, which translated to a .793 save percentage and 4.41 Goals Against Average (GAA).

Even allowing for the defensive play of those in front of the 25-year-old, this was still quite simply not good enough. Noting that his goalie was suffering from a crisis of confidence, Knoblauch gave Calvin Pickard a couple of starts, with the Oilers going 1-1 in those two games.

Skinner got the call for crunch time

it's interesting that when it came to crunch time, Knoblauch decided to place his faith in Skinner. In fairness he had to start at least one of the final two games, to see how he responded; after all, this was still the same goaltender who had performed so well during these past two regular seasons as the main starter in Edmonton.

However, just because Skinner ended up starting both game six and seven and getting the wins, it doesn't mean the Oilers should rely on him so much for the series with the Dallas Stars. And that's despite the fact he can only really be blamed for one of the three combined goals he allowed in the two elimination games.

Regardless, Pickard has to be given at least one start in the four guaranteed games in the Western Conference Final. Despite his lack of playoff experience, he was excellent in his two starts and the one time he replaced Skinner in goal (for the third period of game three).

Pickard brings stability in goal

Knoblauch referenced how calm and confident the 32-year-old looked in net versus the Canucks. In respect of pure statistics, his .915 save percentage and 2.21 GAA were both better than Skinner, whether in respect of facing the Canucks specifically, or these playoffs as a whole.

One of the key comments from the Oilers coach was that Pickard looked like he had played 100 playoff games, as opposed to this being the first such action of his nine seasons in the NHL. This alludes to how some professional athletes can just naturally rise to the occasion and handle the pressure, regardless of how much or little experience they have.

This will be crucial versus the favoured Stars, especially with -- fair or not -- concern still surrounding Skinner's ability to get the job done when the stakes are raised. This alludes back to last season's playoffs, when he struggled to such an extent that the Oilers had to replace him four times, including the last two games versus the Vegas Golden Knights when they were eliminated.

No one will ever doubt Skinner's talent or the fact he's an excellent teammate. However, if Knoblauch is smart, he must make sure he still uses Pickard for one of the most important playoff series in Edmonton in the past two decades.

The Stars took five out of possible six points versus the Oilers during the 2023-24 regular season, and have home-ice advantage for the Western Conference Final. They also finished third in the NHL in goals, and have continued to be one of the top-scoring teams during these playoffs.

Nerve-racking final minutes, but Oilers move onto Western Final. Nerve-racking final minutes, but Oilers move onto Western Final. dark. Next

This is crunch time for the strongest roster in McDavid and Draisaitl's time with the Oilers, especially with how tight their salary cap situation looks for next season. It's almost a case of now or never, which is why both Skinner and Pickard will be vitally important in the coming days.

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