BOSTON — Things We (Think We) Know. Series 1, Volume 6.
Things We Know
Stuart Skinner could not have found a better time to have perhaps his finest hour this season, a 37-save performance in Buffalo that came on the heels of Jack Campbell’s blow-up game against Winnipeg.
Here’s what we know about hockey players, coaches and managers: Nobody cares if the goalie is a really nice guy (See: Barrasso, Tom; Belfour, Eddie.) They just want saves.
Goaltending is the one position in hockey that is like golf. There is no room on the scorecard for a story.
Either your goalie is making enough of the saves required for your team to win — i.e. he is helping. Or, he is not. And he is not helping. There’s no in between when it comes to les gardiens.
Things We (Think We) Know
Edmonton has 17 games left to solidify its playoff game, and you don’t rotate goalies in the playoffs. So that’s 17 games to ready Skinner for what is hoped to be a lengthy run. He’ll get at least 13 of them.
Skinner has had some ups and downs this rookie season, but his game has fluctuated far less than Campbell’s, whose game has hit the skids once again. Campbell has allowed at least four goals in his past five starts, over which time his saves percentage is .845.
Skinner is simply bigger — particularly when geared up — compared to Campbell, and he has that “economy of motion” game. The better he plays, the quieter he looks.
It’s an amazing bit of good fortune that the 24-year-old has emerged as an NHL starter concurrent with Campbell’s failure to be the free agent answer in goal.
Is the Campbell contract going to be an issue? Sure it is.
But for now, there is no more waiting around for a good guy to become a good goalie. Skinner will get the ball, and down the road, the Oilers will have to deal with the fact they have a $5 million backup for four more seasons.
Things We Know
This was the throw to a commercial on ESPN on Tuesday morning:
“There’s no player in any sport playing at the level that Connor McDavid is playing at these days. When we return, the blistering pace of McDavid.”
That’s right: ESPN. The same network whose talking heads told us last week “The Rangers don’t count,” in any discussion about the next New York team to win title.
Look, one of the coolest parts about travelling with the Oilers these days is hearing the crowds in other NHL buildings react to one of his moves or plays in-game. Then they buzz afterwards, marveling over having seen something they paid (and hoped) to see.
In Winnipeg on Saturday it was a simple stop-and-go, as McDavid slammed on the brakes, changed direction and bolted away at an obtuse angle from some Jets traffic — all done within a never-before-seen time frame. It wasn’t a goal, a pass or a deke. Just some edgework that a knowledgeable fan base had never before witnessed.
He has career highs in goals (54) and points (124), and will break his career mark of 79 assists.
Things We (Think We) Know
The math says McDavid is on pace for 68 goals, 88 assists and 156 points. But, he’s actually been more productive in the season’s second half than the first. Here are some stats:
McDavid averaged .804 goals and 1.85 points per game in the first half. So far in the second half of the season, he is averaging .875 goals and 2.29 points per game.
Can he get to 70 goals for the first time since Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny (76 each) in 1992-93? As we have said before, I’ve learned long ago that any sentence that starts with, “I don’t think McDavid can…” is the first step down the road to being wrong.
The two biggest changes I see in McDavid’s offensive game are these: He doesn’t try to beat the last defender nearly as often anymore, instead perfecting the art of shooting through them; And, he shoots off of two-on-ones more often now. Where before he was a predictable passer.
Tied 2-2 in Buffalo, McDavid scored the game-winner to pass Wayne Gretzky and move into second place in the franchise annals with 62 game-winners — 10 back of Glenn Anderson. That stat — accomplished in 552 games as an Oiler, compared to 768 for Gretzky — blows the mind.
Not Zach Hyman’s, however.
“Who’s more likely to make a play than him, right?” asked Hyman. “He’s the best player in the world, pushing his own boundaries and personal bests. He’s driving the bus, he’s been driving the bus for a long time and continues to push himself to get better.”