Stuart Skinner takes the net for Edmonton Oilers as puck drops on 5-game road trip

Article content

Game Day 11: Edmonton at Detroit

Funny how it goes. For the second straight season, the Edmonton Oilers lost their #1 goalie Mike Smith to an undisclosed injury in the early days of the season. For the second straight season Mikko Koskinen filled the breach for an extended run of games. And for the second straight season, the organization’s #3 stopper, Stuart Skinner , will finally get his chance to play in Game #11.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Skinner has been named the starting netminder tonight as the Oilers take on the resurgent Red Wings in Detroit. That’s just the most notable among a handful of line-up switcheroos.

Last year Skinner backed up Koskinen for the opening 10 games of the season before finally get his chance in Game #11, beating Ottawa Senators 8-5 in his NHL debut on Jan 31. That remains his only big-league game to date, as Smith returned to action a week later.

Skinner had his good moments and his shaky ones in that free-wheeling affair against the Sens, in which his teammates provided plenty of goal support but precious little in the way of shutdown defence. The conclusion at the time was “he’s not ready… yet”. This time around, there should be considerably more confidence that he will be up to the task, though as always, the proof will be in the pudding.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Just turned 23 last week, the Edmonton native is in his fourth season as a pro, and his final one with waiver exemption. The time has come for making his case to be a full-time NHL backup next season. And barring a sudden turnaround in Smith’s lingering health issue, he’ll get more than one chance; the Oilers will play 5 games in 8 days on this trip, including back to back in Boston and Buffalo this Thursday and Friday.

A season ago, after spending the first month-plus with the big league team and its taxi squad, Skinner was returned to Bakersfield Condors of the AHL where he recorded his best pro season to date. The club was in the throes of a season-opening 5-game losing slide when he arrived, but both he and the team turned that around, ultimately finishing a strong second in the AHL’s Pacific Division before winning a pair of best-of-three playoff series to claim the division title. The latter included three overtime wins and a 3-2 regulation win in the finale, meaning lots of high-pressure moments for their young netminder.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

By the numbers, Skinner posted a 20-9-1 record with a 2.38 goals against average and .914 save percentage in the regular season, then 4-2 / 2.68 / .907 in the playoffs. In the current season, after a strong camp in Edmonton he started the first 2 games in Bako before the Smith injury occurred, going 2-0-0 / 1.50 / .946. His last game was a 34-save shutout in a 1-0 win over San Jose Barracuda three weeks ago.

That was, of course, the AHL. Tonight he’ll get his next big chance to show his wares, and his mettle, under the bright spotlight of the National Hockey League.

Tonight’s line-up

A few changes elsewhere in the line-up as well, primarily up front. No changes to the supercharged first line, but there’s been a switch at right wing in the middle six. Zack Kassian draws in beside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman on the second line, while Kailer Yamamoto joins Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele on the third. The move may be something of a lifeline for Kassian, whose play has fallen off after an excellent start (3-2-5, +1, 23 hits in his first 4 GP). Over the last 5, however, 0-0-0, -4, 13 hits, even as his average ice time remained unchanged at 13:23 per game. For his part, Yamamoto may be key to an improved defensive performance from a third line that has been getting lit up in its own end of the rink.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Major changes on the fourth line, where Devin Shore is sidelined for 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury suffered vs. Friday’s dramatic win over New York Rangers. Ryan McLeod has been recalled frtom Bakersfield and immediately draws in at 4C. Over on the right side, Colton Sceviour will play his third game of the season, while Kyle Turris will watch from the pressbox.

On the back end, the first pairing of Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard are set to start the game together, even as Tyson Barrie moved up to 1RD in the Rangers game. That remains something of a fluid situation, and indications are that the coaching staff is flexible to “who’s going” in a given game.

On the other side of the sheet, the Red Wings have had a solid start, and currently stand in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a 6-5-2 record. They’ll be playing their third game in four nights, having beaten both Buffalo and Vegas back-to-back on the weekend. Tyler Bertuzzi leads the way with an impressive 9-6-15, +10 in just 10 games played, having missed the Detroit’s 3 games north of the border due to his unvaccinated status. He’s followed on the team’s stats page by two impressive rookies, 19-year-old Swedish winger Lucas Raymond (13 GP, 6-8-14, +4) and 20-year-old German defender Moritz Seider (13 GP, 1-9-10, +2 while averaging 22:39 in ice time).

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Wings have been alternating their new netminders, veteran Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic, who made the All-Rookie Team in 2021. Not confirmed just yet, but the recent rotation suggests that Nedeljkovic, one of the better puckhandling goalies in the game, will get the start tonight.

The Oilers will counter with a couple of rookies of their own in Skinner and McLeod, though of course the major attraction are top scorers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and the potent powerplay that they drive. The game will be televised on Sportsnet West at 5:30pm MST.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

McCURDY: Segment review of Oilers Games 1-10

STAPLES: Ryan McLeod gets another chance

STAPLES: Devin Shore is out. What does it mean? 

LEAVINS: Assessing McDavid — 9 Things

STAPLES: Player grades from Oilers’ thrilling, come-from-behind win over Rangers

McCURDY: Leon Draisaitl raises his game yet again

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles