Oilers set to make big mistake for critical Game 6 versus Canucks

In a game the Edmonton Oilers cannot afford to lose, speculation indicates Kris Knoblauch is set to start Stuart Skinner in net on Saturday night.
Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Four
Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Four / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

As the saying goes, adversity doesn't create character - it reveals it. We're about to learn a lot about this particular Edmonton Oilers team, with them facing an elimination game on Saturday night.

Yes it helps that the Oilers will be at home for this crucial game six, although it is worth noting the Vancouver Canucks are 3-1-0 at Rogers Place so far this season. Regardless, the stakes are arguably at their highest ever during the Connor McDavid era in Edmonton, with the best roster he's ever had around him.

With these stakes raised so high, there are many questions to ask ahead of game six. Chief among them, is who will start between the pipes for a game the Oilers quite simply cannot afford to lose?

Skinner set to get the start

Well, as per the Edmonton Journal's David Staples, the indications are that Stuart Skinner will get the nod ahead of Calvin Pickard. Referencing Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now, there is a strong possibility Kris Knoblauch will go back to his main starter with the season on the line.

As per Staples, Stauffer goes on to stress that this decision is not about disrespecting Pickard in any way. Rather, it's about this being crunch time, going back to your number one, and just having the players in front of him perform better.

Interestingly, Frank Seravalli of the Daily Faceoff agrees that Skinner should get the start in net on Saturday night. Seravalli references him having a higher upside than Pickard, while stating the latter wasn't quite as good as his statistics seem to indicate for game five, e.g. pucks hitting the crossbar and post with him beaten.

Obviously the likes of Stauffer and Seravalli have way more experience and knowledge compared to this particular writer. As such, if they are saying Skinner should/will get the start for game six, then this take has to be respected.

Pickard deserves to be in net for Game 6

At the same time however, it doesn't mean we have to agree with them. In our humble opinion, it will be a mistake by the Oilers, if Pickard doesn't get the start on Saturday night.

People can talk all they want about a player's potential and upside, but at some point it comes down to what that player is actual doing on the ice. Along these lines, Pickard has been the better goalie in this second round series versus the Canucks.

Consider that in his two starts and one relief appearance against Vancouver, the 32-year-old has a .915 save percentage and 2.21 Goals Against Average (GAA). By comparison, Skinner has a shocking .793 save percentage and 4.41 GAA in his three starts.

Oilers coach Knoblauch himself admitted that Skinner has lost confidence and looked nervous during the Canucks series. On the flip side, he talked to the media about Pickard bringing confidence and stability in goal, despite having never starting in the playoffs prior to game four.

Let's also not forget that the Oilers have been here before, with Skinner also struggling during last season's playoffs. Four time he was replaced in his 12 starts, including three times versus the Vegas Golden Knights.

Who do you want with the season on the line?

There is a line of thinking that Skinner could be primed for a bounce-back performance after being rested for two games. Also, that Pickard should not be expected to potentially start four consecutive times, in the event the Oilers do manage to take the series back to Vancouver for a seventh game.

However, we would argue that Pickard has had plenty of time to rest during the regular season, only starting 20 NHL games compared to 57 by Skinner. (For the record, Pickard also started four games for the Bakersfield Condors prior to his call-up.) Besides, if you're a well-conditioned athlete, you can handle starting a game every other night, especially at such a crucial juncture of the 2023-24 campaign.

To be clear, absolutely none of this is about putting down Skinner, who is a tremendous talent and an even better teammate and person in general. However, now is not the time for the Oilers to show loyalty just for the sake of it; it's about going with the hot hand.

Next. All too familiar sinking feeling for Oilers fans. All too familiar sinking feeling for Oilers fans. dark

Ultimately, Pickard gives the Oilers the better chance of winning on Saturday night. It would be a big mistake by Knoblauch if he decides to start Skinner, given how this series has panned out so far.

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