High praise from unlikely source for Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner heading into Game 1

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Playoff Game Day 19

Stanley Cup Finals Game 1: Oilers vs Panthers

Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch has confirmed that both Warren Foegele and Philip Broberg will play in Game 1 today.

The lines and pairings at Frida’s practice were:

RNH-McD-Hyman
Kane-Drais-Holloway
Janm-Henrique-Brown
Foegele-McL-Perry

Ekholm-Bouchard
Nurse-Ceci
Kulak-Broberg

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And, of course, Stuart Skinner will start in net. Skinner enters the Stanley Cup Finals on a hot streak, coming off the best game of his career when he thwarted the Dallas Stars in Game 6. But if there’s one player being questioned on the Edmonton Oilers right now, it’s Skinner.

Almost all NHL analysts and insiders suggest that Florida has an edge in net with veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

The gambling analysts say the same. “At this stage in the postseason, anything can happen, but the Cats have a ton of firepower,” says Larry Fisher. head of content at PowerPlay.com. “There are questions surrounding the Oilers’ goaltending. Stuart Skinner has had some amazing games, including the clincher against Dallas, but he’s also had some really poor performances. That could significantly determine how this series will play out.”

Skinner gets little respect from fans and commentators Dallas or in Florida, but he does have one new admirer, Daryl “Razor” Reaugh, the most prominent and respected Dallas Stars commentator, the team’s long-time TV and radio game analyst.

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Reaugh, a former NHL and Oilers goalie himself, had expected the Stars to dominate the Oilers in the Western Conference Finals, but when that didn’t happen he was enthusiastic in his praise of the Skinner.

“Skinner took his game up a notch. Or 15,” Reaugh said. “In the Finals, (Dallas) mustered only a dozen non-empty net goals in six games. Which was flabbergasting. They just could not score enough goals all of a sudden…”

Reaugh also had praise for the Oilers and especially Connor McDavid: “That is a very good Edmonton team, like an excellent Edmonton team. McDavid, when he went God mode, how do you match that? You don’t match that. He’s an incredible generational player. As Schopenhauer once said, ‘Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.’ That’s McDavid. He’s one of those.”

Schopenhauer

Reaugh’s praise runs counter to many of the narratives about Skinner. In Dallas after Game 6 some commentators could not get their head around the fact that Skinner essentially stole a win with his stellar play.

According to the Cult of Hockey’s video review of Grade A shots, Dallas had 14 to just three for Edmonton, with the subset of even more dangerous 5-alarm shots six for Dallas, two for the Oilers.

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On the Starcastic podcast out of Dallas, commentator Chris Chambers said he thought Skinner was amazing and fantastic in Game 6, but fellow pundit Ryan Chambers, his brother, was having none of that.

“I don’t think Stuart Sinner was amazing,” Ryan said. “He was good. He was an above average goaltender. I’m sorry… People are talking him up like he was this world beater. This guy had to be pulled in the second series (against Vancouver).”

Ryan also said there were no enormous high-danger scoring chances on Skinner in Game 6, just a lot of shots. “I don’t care about the stats… It’s not about the goaltending in this series. It’s flat out about the team defence. Otter (Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger) was not bad this series. You can disagree with me or whatever. But the difference in this series was the team defence of the Edmonton Oilers.”

Skepticism of Skinner was also heard on the Cats ‘N Rats podcast in Florida.

Commentator Cody Stevens insisted Skinner was not greatly challenged in Game 6 against Dallas: “Stuart Skinner played a good game in Game 6 against Dallas. But even then I felt like they didn’t test him… I bet he has a lot of puck marks on that Edmonton logo from last series because that’s where all Dallas was shooting at him. I mean, Lord!”

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Asked if Skinner was going to outperform the other goalies faced in previous series by the Florida Panthers, Stevens gave that a “7.46 per cent” chance.

“Stuart Skinner will be the first goalie I believe that we could be five hole these playoffs.”

skinner

My take

1. Skinner has been a hot and cold goalie all season. It was great, however, to see him finally get hot during a run of playoff games. If that had not happened, the Oilers would have been shopping for another starting goalie this summer, which speaks to the immense pressure on Skinner after he got pulled against Vancouver, then put back in for two elimination games to close out the series.

2. Having fought through that amount of pressure, Skinner now seems like a new goalie. He appears to be wearing the scrutiny and expectation of the playoffs far more lightly now. He’s gone through the hellfire of failure and seemingly come out of it a new man. But he remains a hot and cold goalie. We’ll soon see which way his game is trending in the Cup finals.

P.S. This in from former Cult of Hockey writer Johathan Willis, his prediction of the Oilers in six.

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Said Willis on Twitter:

I suppose I’d better get this in before the series starts: Oilers in six. I have lots of reasons, but I’ve laid out some of the rationale for that prediction previously: Dallas was the most disciplined team in the playoffs. Florida is much more likely to take penalties. I know the Panthers PK is good, but there’s a *slight* difference betwen shutting down NYR (8.5 goals/60) and EDM (14.5 goals/60).

I’m also not convinced FLA is some 5v5 juggernaut by comparison to EDM. Expected goals% and NHL rank, regular season:

1. EDM: 57%
3. EDM’s R3 opp: 55%
4. EDM’s R1 opp: 55%
5. FLA: 54%
8. EDM’s R2 rd. opp: 52%
18. FLA’s R2 opp: 50%
21. FLA’s R1 opp: 49%
22. FLA’s R3 opp: 49%

In other words, this is the first time in the playoffs that Florida will face an opponent that was better than 50/50 by expected goals in the regular season. Edmonton has already beat two teams who had superior totals to the Panthers.

P.S. The best 30 minutes of radio you’ll hear all week, Staples and Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now talk McDavid in the Finals, Draisaitl’s praise of Katz and Edmonton’s unique ability to break the fearsome Florida press

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