Last season was as surprising as it was impressive for Stuart Skinner, as he established himself during a fine rookie campaign. He went 29-14-5 in 48 starts, produced a .913 save percentage and 2.75 Goals Against Average (GAA) and finished runner up for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
As a result, expectations were high for Skinner entering the 2023-24 season. However, it's fair to say he's had an up-and-down campaign to this point, with him struggling to rediscover the consistency which was key to his success last season.
The season got off to a poor start, as the 25-year-old allowed four goals on just 16 shots during a relief appearance in the disastrous season opener in Vancouver. He proceeded to go 1-5-1 in his first seven starts, with him at one point having the third-worst save percentage among all NHL goalies.
Taking the good with the bad
Then, Skinner seemed to find some form as he won his next three starts in net, with a .942 save percentage and 1.67 GAA. However, the turnaround was ruined by allowing nine combined goals in two subsequent games, both of which the Oilers lost.
The second loss was particularly horrific, as the Edmonton native allowed four goals on just 12 shots. He lasted just 14:48 of the contest, which the Oilers went on to lose 6-3 to the Hurricanes.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, Skinner rebounded with his best form of the season -- and arguably his NHL career -- yet. He started seven times in the Oilers' eight-game winning streak, recording a .934 save percentage and 1.70 GAA in the process.
Falling just short
However, in keeping with how erratic the 2017 third round draft pick has been so far this season, he then had a nightmare performance against the Lightning. The team was on the verge of equalling a club record for consecutive wins, but were let down by their man between the pipes.
Skinner allowed five goals on just 22 shot, as the Oilers went on to lose 7-4 despite setting a team-record with 57 shot attempts at goal. In fairness to him he didn't shirk any responsibility postgame, as he said:
"I think the guys played a heck of a game, I don’t think anybody in this room should be upset except for me to be honest. I think I ended up losing us the game, and that’s something that I’ll take on and I’ll be better for it."
Skinner's perspective is to be applauded, and likely goes someway towards explaining his ability to recover from tough outings. His mental fortitude proves as a stark contrast to Jack Campbell, who is always beating himself up after poor games and overall struggles for self-confidence.
Having said all this, Skinner was still unable to rebound in his next start, versus the Islanders. While you can argue he was only truly at fault for one of the three goals he allowed, he ultimately ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline.
In another slump
As a result, the stark reality is that the 2023 All-Star has just a .860 save percentage in his previous four games, allowing 11 combined goals in three of those contests. While we won't go as far as to say he's back to his difficulties from earlier in the season, he still needs to step up after losing his last two starts.
Fortunately for the Oilers and their fans, this is a player with the aforementioned mindset required to not be fazed by bad performances. In fact, as per his comments following the Lightning game, Skinner is somehow able to find the positive in terms of using adversity as an opportunity to learn from and improve his game.
In fairness, it should also be mentioned the erratic defensive efforts of those in front of Skinner have not helped his ability to perform with more consistency this season. Overall though it does still ultimately come down to him, but at least it's a challenge he seems more than willing to embrace.