Oilers’ Stuart Skinner needs to find answers and start stopping pucks

EDMONTON — Pucks have gotten past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner from all over the place and in all kinds of ways through the first two playoff games.

They’ve ticked off his defencemen’s skates and trickled by him. They’ve zipped by him through screens. They’ve whizzed by him from the slot.

The most important one to hit the twine behind him, Anze Kopitar’s overtime winner in a 5-4 loss in Game 2 which tied the first-round series with the Los Angeles Kings, was riffled over his glove.

A puck has eluded Skinner and caused the red light to flash nine times. There’s no Ferris Bueller computer that can roll that back to something more palatable.

Something must quickly change for Game 3 to avoid a much bigger disappointment than the one on Wednesday.

“Games like this where it feels like the universe is against you and the puck’s just not working for you, it’s part of life,” Skinner said. “It’s part of playoffs, too. I’m sure I’ll feel this again at some point. I mean, I hope that I get to feel this again at some point if we get on a stretch here.

“The takeaway is to wash it out. I know who I am, I know my game and I’m going to get back to work.”


Kings finally dismiss Oilers in Game 2 with Kopitar’s OT goal: 5 takeaways

Skinner was riddled by misfortune in Game 1 as he allowed four goals on 37 shots. The only goal he had the slightest hope of stopping was a Mikey Anderson point shot that he never saw because of a screen.

The next two pucks that beat him were knocked off Evan Bouchard’s and Darnell Nurse’s skates. The last goal was a five-alarm chance after Cody Ceci’s stick exploded in the defensive zone.

There wasn’t a lot Skinner could have done differently. The last two goals were essentially surrendered in garbage time in a convincing 7-4 win by the Oilers.

Game 2 was different.

No, it’s not like Skinner was a sieve or anything. It’s just that the game ended with 21 saves to his credit on 26 shots.

“I thought there were a lot of — not as bad as the other night — unfortunate events. The first game, I thought he played really well,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Tonight, not that any of those goals were bad …”

Knoblauch quickly recapped some of the five tallies by the Kings before finishing his thought.

“I’m not faulting him on any of those goals,” he said.

Really though, only two of those goals were unstoppable. There was a double deflection last touched by Oilers nemesis Adrian Kempe for his and the Kings’ second marker of the game. Kopitar’s winner, a wicked wrister on a partial break that went over Skinner’s glove, should fall under that category, too.

As for the rest of them, well, Skinner has the analysis.

Kempe scored his first goal at 3:19 of the first period on the second shot of the game. He beat Skinner low to the glove side from the high slot.

“Kempe made a nice shot, but that’s a shot that I saw — and I can stop a puck like that,” Skinner said.

A breakaway goal by Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, of all people, saw him slide a puck through Skinner’s five-hole after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins nudged his stick on the backcheck while he was deking to the backhand. That put the Kings up 3-1 at 18:02 of the opening period and came 35 seconds after Oilers’ Brett Kulak made it a one-goal game.

“I just got caught in the mix of things and didn’t read it well,” Skinner said. “That’s stuff that’s happening. Every shot that they take, it seems to hit off a guy’s stick or hit off a skate.”

Kevin Fiala’s wobbler from the sideboards was the one that looked the most odorous. That gave the Oilers a 4-3 lead at 1:46 of the third.

“I think it reached me clean,” Skinner said. “To be honest, I couldn’t see a thing.”

There were lots of reasons why the goals happened. There weren’t enough answers for why they shouldn’t have.

And so, the criticism and speculation begin. It is the playoffs, after all. But let’s make a couple of things clear first.

The Oilers were far from perfect defensively in Game 2. A turnover led to Kempe’s first goal. Doughty and Kopitar scored on clear-cut chances.

“There’s a lot to clean up,” Knoblauch said. “They are a good team — they’re going to get chances — but I felt that we were giving them some opportunities that I don’t think we needed to.”

Also, despite some iffy moments in this series, there’s no mistaking that the net belongs to Skinner. It wouldn’t quite take a when-pigs-fly scenario to change that equation, but it’s got to be close.

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Skinner let in nine goals over Games 1 and 2. (Perry Nelson / USA Today)

Calvin Pickard, for all the success he had in the regular season, is the backup. He’s around if the glass needs to be broken in case of emergency.

Jack Campbell, who’s been in the minors since November, allowed five goals on 35 shots in AHL Bakersfield’s first playoff game on Wednesday — a loss to the Kings’ farm team. Don’t count on him as an understudy thrust into a starring role for the Oilers like he was in last year’s playoffs.

Olivier Rodrigue, Bakersfield’s other goalie, has never appeared in an NHL game.

Knoblauch threw his support behind his 25-year-old, mustachioed netminder after Wednesday’s contest.

He said he never considered pulling Skinner after the first period when he allowed three goals on seven shots.

He then noted Skinner’s ability to rebound after subpar outings and mentioned Skinner fessed up after giving up five goals on 22 shots in a loss against Tampa Bay on Dec. 14. Skinner posted a .915 save percentage over his final 38 appearances after that game.

“I’ve seen him take ownership and accountability and come out really solid and play superbly,” Knoblauch said. “I have no doubt that he can do that.”

The entire hockey world will be watching Game 3 on Friday to see if Knoblauch’s confidence in Skinner is well-founded.

There will be questions and concerns about Skinner because of what happened in the 2023 playoffs until he strings together a few solid performances. Skinner went 5-6 last April and May with an .883 save percentage following a Calder Trophy runner-up season. He was pulled four times in 12 starts.

The Oilers just can’t afford a repeat of last year from their goalie.

Look, the Oilers have been miles better than the Kings through the first two games.

They’ve had some elite performances from their stars — or at least some game-breaking plays. Their power play has looked unstoppable and has gone 4-for-7 after cashing in on nine of 16 opportunities in last year’s series. They’re even getting some depth contributions — namely the first two playoff goals from sophomore Dylan Holloway on Wednesday.

They have this series firmly in their grasp despite things being even-steven.

“You saw some of the goals they scored last game. You saw some of the goals they scored tonight. Not to take anything away (from them), but they seem to be fluky goals,” defenceman Mattias Ekholm said.

“I still like the way we’ve played. We still have the puck a lot.”

It appears the Oilers merely require good goaltending to take out the Kings. They don’t need a brick wall between the pipes, but someone with an .857 save percentage — as Skinner sports in the early going — isn’t going to cut it.

There can be all the hard luck and bad bounces in the world for Skinner — and he’s sure had his share throughout the first two games. But he’s got to find a way to keep a couple more pucks out of the net.

That’s all there is to it.

“I don’t think I was a big factor (positively) in the game tonight,” Skinner said. “I’m going to get better from that and move on.”

(Top photo of Drew Doughty scoring on Stuart Skinner: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

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