Time for Edmonton Oilers to give Calvin Pickard a start in net

Stuart Skinner quite simply hasn't been good enough versus the Canucks and the Oilers need to make a change between the pipes before it's too late.
Vegas Golden Knights v Edmonton Oilers
Vegas Golden Knights v Edmonton Oilers / Leila Devlin/GettyImages

The Edmonton Oilers have been here before, with Stuart Skinner struggling in the playoffs; only last season in fact. This time around however, it's just seems and feels even worse.

Last season, Skinner produced a .883 save percentage and 3.68 Goals Against Average (GAA) in 12 playoff starts. And in four of those starts he was replaced by Jack Campbell of all players.

This time around, the Edmonton native has a .877 save percentage and 3.22 GAA through eight starts. However, it's how he's performed specifically versus the Vancouver Canucks, which has raised the alarm bells.

In three games versus the Canucks, Skinner has allowed 12 combined goals on just 58 shots. This translates to a .793 save percentage and 4.41 GAA, which is quite simply unacceptable.

Enough is enough

In game three -- back on home ice no less - Kris Knoblauch finally had enough, pulling his embattled goaltender after 40 minutes and with the Oilers down 4-2. However, while this move stopped the bleeding, the home team were only able to score once on 22 third period shots at goal, and ultimately lost the game and home-ice advantage in a 4-3 defeat to the Canucks.

The question is, where do the Oilers go from here? We know Skinner isn't a bad goalie as per his regular season play, while also being an extremely likeable and stand-up guy,

At the same time though, this isn't the regular season anymore, and last time we checked, being a nice guy doesn't really mean much when it comes to crunch time. The reality is that Skinner continually has issues under the bright glare and intensity of playoff hockey.

Now, we're at a point where the Oilers have to seriously consider giving Calvin Pickard a start between the pipes. Otherwise, this will become yet another season where the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era is wasted, and with arguably the best overall roster this team has had since the duo arrived in Edmonton.

Knoblauch gives honest assessment

Following the game, Knoblauch was asked by the media about what the team needs from their goaltender position. The Oilers coach said: "Yes, we need more saves. Tonight obviously, we felt like that, with Picks going in the third period yea. Defence, along with goaltending, it's very important to winning hockey games, especially in the long term and yeah, it's got to be better."

Understandably, the media then asked about Skinner more specifically and how he's been dealing with the pressure of late. Knoblauch said: "Yeah, I think tonight's one he'd like to have back and we'll see what he's got in the future, whether it's game four or game five or whatever it is. But we'll be seeing Stu again and I have no doubt he'll respond and play well."

Reading between the lines, Knoblauch's words do seem to allude to him being open to resting Skinner for game four on Tuesday night. This would of course mean giving Pickard a start.

Pickard over Skinner?

For what it's worth, Pickard had better statistics than Skinner during the 2023-24 regular season, albeit in much more limited action. Regardless, he went 12-7-2 in 20 starts (23 overall appearances), in the process recording a .909 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Another aspect which must be considered, is Pickard's lack of playoff experience. In fact his third period cameo on Sunday night -- where he saved all three shots he faced -- was the first such action of his NHL career.

Regardless, something has to give. The Oilers can't keep hoping -- and it is hoping at this point rather than expecting -- Skinner will turn it all around from here on out; there's just too much at stake now.

It doesn't help, when the Canucks are getting excellent goaltending in the other net, even with Vezina Trophy finalist Thatcher Demko still out injured. Arturs Silovs has proven to be a revelation in Vancouver during these playoffs, including making a career-high 42 saves in game three at Rogers Place.

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It's stating the obvious, but the Oilers can't afford to lose game four on Tuesday night and return to Vancouver facing a 3-1 deficit. As much as Pickard is still an unknown in some respects, it might be time for Knoblauch to take a gamble and start him in place of Skinner, who is clearly struggling.

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