Blocked shots are the best friend of Edmonton Oilers goalie Skinner

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So much has been made of the saves Stuart Skinner has kept from going into the Edmonton Oilers net, that has helped the team reach the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Stars.

But what about the shots that are stopped from reaching Skinner?

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The Oilers, down to a man, have shown a willingness to put life and limb on the line to get in the way of pucks, which has contributed in no small way to the team getting where it is right now.

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And shot-blocking has been a big factor in the Oilers heading into Game 2 Saturday at American Airlines Center on a streak that has seen their penalty kill successful in its previous 19 attempts.

“The first thing I think about is just how they block shots,” Skinner said of his black-and-blue teammates who don’t have the advantage of having anywhere near the amount of padding he is protected by as a citizen of the crease. “I mean, a lot of ice bags are put on guys after games, and that takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of strength to get in front of pucks.

“Obviously, when you’re not a goalie you don’t have the equipment that I’ve got.”

The Oilers blocked 24 shots, compared to 25 by the Stars in Game 1, but made up for it with a penalty kill that went 5-for-5, compared to 1-for-1 for Dallas.

“Being able to get in front of those pucks, it helps my job a lot, it helps everyone a lot,” Skinner said. “We’re able to front pucks, be able to get the puck out, get the clear. And then even when we don’t get the clear, it’s just how we go from there. We’re just kind of always on our toes and I think we’ve got a lot of chemistry going on.

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“We’re feeling really good, obviously, so it’s really important for us to keep that going and not getting away from the small details.”

But in a series against the conference champions, every detail, no matter the size, can add up. And as was shown in Game 1’s overtime result, the margins are small. And the same goes for the difference between Skinner having a shot blocked in front of him by a teammate, and getting screened by said teammate.

“We’ve gone through a lot of experiences where that has happened,” Skinner said. “And we’ve talked it out and we’ve gotten a good hold of things. At the same time, in the game there’s always a lot of different moving parts so sometimes they’re going to have to get in the way to block a shot. Sometimes I’m going to have to find a save even though I’m screened.

“And obviously with this team, Dallas, they’re a heavy, heavy team on screens and being able to get tips. So, it’s a really good challenge for all of us.”

One that becomes exponentially more difficult with the veteran presence of Joe Pavelski in front of the net looking for a patented tip-in.

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“I think it’s a great challenge for me,” Skinner said. “He’s obviously done an incredible job through his whole career, being able to do that. I remember when he was in San Jose with (Brent) Burns, they were always working on that and it’s obviously done him really good.

“Practice makes perfect and it’s a really good challenge for me to step my game up against a guy like that.”

His hope is, of course, that he won’t have to do it alone, and at least some of those pucks sent his way as shots or passes to be tipped get interrupted somewhere along the way by a backchecking forward or a teammate’s stick or body getting in the way.

And that includes efforts from superstars such as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“That’s exactly it,” Skinner said. “That’s why those guys got (captains) letters, they lead by example, they lead in the room, they way they talk, how hungry they are. And they’re showing that with how hard they’re backchecking, willing to block shots. Leo’s getting in front of shots, Davo’s getting in front of shots, there’s a huge block by Davo the last game. They’re both backchecking so hard.

“Obviously, they’re getting their offensive looks as well, but they’re just really determined and when everyone sees that, I think everyone knows we’ve got to step up.”

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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