McKenna and Quadrelli: What’s going on with the Edmonton Oilers goaltending situation?

Welcome to another edition of McKenna and Quadrelli, a series in which veteran professional goaltender Mike McKenna and David Quadrelli diagnose and examine the stories of goalies in the hockey world.

In our premiere episode, we analyzed Nashville Predators prospect Yaroslav Askarov’s game, and today we’re talking about the situation for Edmonton Oilers goaltenders.

Quadrelli: Alright, let’s start right off here. Edmonton fans are hoping Stuart Skinner can be a Jordan Binnington-type savior for them. Do you see any similarities or chances of this actually happening?

McKenna: Of course, there’s a chance Skinner will come along and run with it. But I don’t think it’s as likely as Binnington’s unlikely run for several reasons. First, Binnington spent five and a half years grinding minors and had solid numbers in all of them. He’s never been below .900 save percentage and he’s had flashes of dominance. Yet for some reason the Blues didn’t give him a chance.

Skinner didn’t really find success in the minor leagues until last season. I saw him play several games for the Bakersfield Condors and he caught my eye. I saw potential. After a few shoulder seasons of shuttling between the ECHL and the AHL, it looked like he had finally hit his stride.

I didn’t see Skinner’s consistency — or arrogance — the way Binnington showed it early in his NHL career. But right now, I think Skinner might be the best guard in the Oilers system.

Quadrelli: What is it about his game that grabs your attention and will make Stuart Skinner a successful keeper? Is his game going to be completed or hurt by the Oilers defense?

McKenna: I think Skinner is very good at the technical side of his game. He’s judicious with his depth and rarely strays away from the blue paint. Its good. This means that it is generally square to the shooter. His post-integrations are well-oiled and efficient. He mostly plays between the posts, which allows him to use that big 6-foot-4 frame.

So it’s all good when the Oilers defend in their own zone. Skinner is more aggressive than Mike Smith when it comes to depth. But that’s most NHL goaltenders. Skinner likes to have his toes around the top of the crease.

What interests me are the odds of rushing against. Skinner doesn’t play with a lot of backward flow and because of that he can get caught off guard. Not ideal when faced with an odd man rush. He can be trusted if the puck carrier chooses to shoot. But any sideways pass will be hard for Skinner to catch because he has little backward or diagonal momentum.

Quadrelli: Is it something in your experience and knowledge that is relatively coachable and fixable? Or will it be a vice for him for a long time?

McKenna: It’s teachable, but the goalkeeper – as well as his goalkeeper coach – has to believe it. That’s what I can’t say for sure, if Skinner would adapt to have more skating in his game? He is an efficient skater. But not a big one. Can he push his game further in this regard? I think that would make it more dynamic.

I’m not advocating that Skinner make drastic changes. Rolling back doesn’t mean the same as 10 years ago, when goalkeepers wandered several feet outside the crease on cutting-edge chances. By today’s standard, ebbing simply means releasing the edges and slowly drifting back to accept the rush. I think that would help him.

Quadrelli: Interesting. Now let’s talk about this goalie situation as a whole. To me, the Oilers’ best chance of turning the tide is if Mike Smith can somehow turn the tide. That seems like a big ask for a 39-year-old goalkeeper.

The most realistic option seems to be Skinner. How do you see the situation and their best chance of getting out of it?

McKenna: I agree, David. Although I love Skinner and wish he had better luck. Mike Smith was amazing last season and he’s updated his game in recent years. That’s admirable, especially for a goalie as late in his career as Smith. But his health is a major concern. The 2021-22 season is halfway through and he has only played six games.

Adding fuel to the fire, Smith didn’t look the same against St. Louis and New Jersey in late December. Some of it is probably just rust from free time. But you have to wonder if he is fighting through injury.

For me, it all depends on Smith’s health and if he can get back to form. I love Skinner, but I’m not sure he’s ready yet. His sample size in the NHL is small. But he was also relatively consistent and stole a few wins. Some of his best games were when he faced a lot of shots. It’s encouraging.

Even though the season is less than halfway, there isn’t much time to figure this out. Smith is due to launch within the next two weeks. And the Oilers need to understand Koskinen’s situation immediately.

Quadrelli: And what did you think of Dave Tippett and Mikko Koskinen’s comments?

McKenna: It’s quite simple for me. The bridge between Tippett and Koskinen was burned. Even though they have talked about it, this resentment will persist. Koskinen knows his time is up in Edmonton. I took Tippett’s comments as a swipe at Ken Holland, basically saying « I can’t win with this guy. » Tippett also referred to Koskinen as « our goalkeeper » rather than his name. Again, bad messaging.

I like that Koskinen defends himself while appropriating his own piece. He struggled against Rangers. But he was also right when he said that the team hadn’t scored enough in front of him. Clearly, he was tired of being the scapegoat of an underperforming team.

Quadrelli: What’s your opinion on what really afflicts this team, is it actually just the goalkeeper?

McKenna: It starts with the goalkeeper. But Edmonton lacks offensive depth right now. Turris and Ryan were absent. They need another D. But I don’t think Edmonton is working hard enough. The teams figured out how to beat them. Remove medium ice cream. Tight gaps in the neutral zone. Stay out of the penalty area. If an opposing team can do these things, Edmonton struggles to earn points.

Quadrelli: So, at the end of the day, if an Oilers fan asks you to help ease their mind, what do you say? Do you believe they can actually understand that?

McKenna: Well, I don’t like being a depresser. But I don’t see a clear path at the moment. I hope Smith regains his health and returns to form. And I hope Skinner’s development has taken the next step and is ready for the big time. Neither is exactly a safe bet. But I also don’t see anything on the trade horizon that’s doable for the Oilers. Of course, guards are available. But the teams all know that Edmonton is desperate to find one and the price has probably skyrocketed right now. For a team facing the salary cap, it’s a tough situation. Especially in the last offseason, everyone saw this problem coming.

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