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The Oilers Have Two Goalie Problems

EDMONTON, AB - MAY 12: Edmonton Oilers Goalie Stuart Skinner (74) makes a save in the second period of game five of the Western Conference Second Round Edmonton Oilers game versus the Vancouver Canucks on May 12, 2024 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images|

Do not shake your fist at the goaltending gods.

If you had asked which second-round series might come down to goaltending, Canucks-Oilers would have been the chalk pick. In Vancouver's crease is third-stringer Arturs Silovs, the Latvian legend-in-the-making who like any unexpectedly hot netminder could go cold at any time. In Edmonton's crease is The Crushing Psychic Weight Of Years Of Oilers Goalies. For the moment, that means Stuart Skinner—oh, no, wait, it's Calvin Pickard now.

The Canucks won Game 3, 4-3, despite being outshot 45-18, and I swear the Deserve-to-Win-O-Meter arrow goes farther left each time I check. That is life in the playoffs. Goalies steal games. They lose them, too. “I thought we were the better team for the most part and in my eyes it should have resulted in a win,” said Leon Draisaitl, who already has eight points in this series. “But that’s not the way hockey works sometimes."

Skinner was yanked after two periods, having allowed four goals on 15 shots. There weren't any egregious softies on this night like in the first two games, but there weren't any above-and-beyond stops either. "We need more saves," Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said, and suddenly we have our first real goalie controversy of the playoffs. Not that Pickard has done much to distinguish himself, or even had the chance; he made three saves Sunday night in his first postseason action. But he's not Skinner, who seems to be Going Through It. Pulled four times as a rookie in last year's playoffs, Skinner appeared to have righted the ship against the Kings in the first round. But against Vancouver he is allowing 4.63 goals per game and has a .790 save percentage.

Only two things remained for a true goalie controversy, and they arrived in short order: The Oilers declined to make Skinner available to the media after the game, and Knoblauch declined to name a starter for Game 4. "Obviously it’s very emotional after a loss," he said. "We’ll get together as a staff and make that decision.”

Edmonton longs for a steady hand in net, a bloodless, imperturbable mind with the reflexes of a cat and the icy heart of a champion. It longs, in other words, for an Arturs Silovs. The 23-year-old has been thrust into the spotlight and has thrived in it. It's not like we're giving him confidence," said defenseman Nikita Zadorov. "He gives us confidence." If he has not been spectacular he has been workmanlike. The Oilers are certainly keeping him busy:

How popular is Silovs in BC right now? Earlier this month, J.T. Miller wore one of Silovs's more, uh, garish shirts at practice. That shirt is now sold out at Hugo Boss.

Not everyone is so taken with Silovs. Draisaitl, when given the opportunity to pump his opponent's tires, declared that "post is not good goaltending," referring to a handful of clangers. All's fair in love and scoring chances: When asked about a save on Draisaitl, Silovs smiled and asked, "Which one?"

The Oilers can paper over a lot with their high-powered offense and much-improved blue line, but not this much, not so far. Winning the possession battle only goes so far when a back end is as leaky as theirs has been. They either need to solve Silovs or get some stops of their own—and if they want to achieve their Cup dreams, they'll need both, and fast. If this somehow results in a Jack Campbell Redemption Start I will die a happy man.

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