MATHESON: Long-time pro, Pickard set to make his first NHL start in almost two years

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Calvin Pickard’s last NHL start before Monday night in Florida for the Edmonton Oilers was close to two years ago in Pittsburgh (Jan. 28, 2022) when much-travelled goalie stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 3-2 shootout win for Detroit.

Pickard, was the No. 1 goaltender in Bakersfield, the Oilers American Hockey League affiliate, before his farm call-up when Jack Campbell was sent down 10 days ago, stopped Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang in that January, 2022 skills contest. He also stopped  36 of 38 shots over the first 65 minutes with only Guentzel beating him, twice (rebound, PP one-timer).

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He spent much of that 2021-22 season in the AHL, in Grand Rapids (43 games) but got the NHL start when the Red Wings gave No. 1 Alex Nedeljkovic needed a night off. 

“Calvin’s a warrior, a real warrior. He battles to win games…great competitor. In the shooutout, he shut them out. That was huge,” said former Detroit coach Jeff Blashill, now Tampa’s assistant coach, as he assessed Pickard’s winning performance.

Giving Oilers starter Stuart Skinner a night off after six straight starts, this will be the sixth team Pickard has played NHL games for (Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia, Arizona, Detroit and now the Oilers) so he’ll always be part of alumni games when he retires. Current Oiler forwards Sam Gagner and Adam Erne were playing for Detroit in Pickard’s last NHL start.

The Oilers continue to look for a more experienced NHL goaltender to work with Skinner if Campbell (13 goals allowed in 72 shots) can’t get his game back in Bakersfield. GM Ken Holland has done business with Chicago (Duncan Keith) and Arizona (Nick Bjugstad, Zack Kassian) before. He’s had Mrazek before in Detroit (one year left at $3.8 mil). But to unload Campbell’s contract (three plus years left at $5 million per) on the Hawks, who have lots of cap room, he’d have to certainly give up his 2024 first-round pick, and a good prospect and maybe another draft pick in 2025. 

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The Coyotes have the tandem of Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram in net, but they already have tons of draft picks in their cupboard. They need ready-made forwards more than D, if trading.

Not seeing any out-of-the-box Miikka Kiprusoffs coming in to help. Twenty years ago this month (Nov. 16, 2003), Calgary dealt a second-round draft pick to San Jose for Kiprusoff, who was the No. 3 on the Sharks behind Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala. Of course, it also helped that Flames’ GM Darryl Sutter had some inside knowledge. He was coach of Sharks before moving to Calgary.

Law of averages?

The Oilers had 89 power play goals in their 82 games last season, with Ottawa (72) and Tampa (71) well back in their rear-view mirror but they went into the Florida game with a pedestrian 13 in their 16 games with teams seemingly choking off Connor McDavid and the team’s “downhill power play.” It all runs through McDavid.

Teams have adjusted, watching lots of video, and McDavid isn’t as free to dangle inside the blueline. Heck, maybe he has to start running the Oiler PP from behind opposing net, setting up office like Wayne Gretzky did? It’s a continuous challenge for PP coach Glen Gulutzan to come up with a tweak. Let’s face it, last year the Oilers were up 1-0 before the first face-off, scoring their 89 in 82 games. 

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The New Jersey Devils lead with 23 power play goals right now, Vancouver, with captain Quinn Hughes running things from the point and Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller firing away have 22.

This ‘n that: The Oilers certainly caught a break with Florida captain Aleksander Barkov not dressing after a knee-on-knee hit with Anaheim’s Jackson LaCombe last week. Barkov is out day-to-day.

Interesting that when Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair were replaced in February, 2022, Jay Woodcroft and his AHL defence coach Dave Manson in Bako were brought up but when those two were let go on Nov. 12, Kris Knoblauch didn’t bring in ex Oiler D Steve Smith from Hartford (Rangers farm team).

Smith, the three-time Oiler Stanley Cup champion, was an assistant here for four seasons (two under Tom Renney, one under Ralph Krueger, one under Dallas Eakins). Smith took over as interim Hartford head coach.
It’s been a very difficult time for Manson, who lost his wife of 33 years to melanoma in early August in Saskatchewan.

Winger Mattias Janmark (shoulder) is eligible to come off LTIR Wednesday for the Oiler game in Carolina, after missing 10 games and 24 days. Janmark was hurt against the New York Rangers Oct. 26 on Oiler Hall of Fame night (Doug Weight and Charlie Huddy).

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Beau Akey’s dislocated shoulder, which will require surgery, is a blow to the Oiler second round defenceman, but as one long-time NHL observer said “better he does it in junior than early in a pro career.” Akey, 18, had been running Barrie Colts’ PP with Brandt Clarke, now on Los Angeles Kings’ AHL farm team Ontario Reign.
Oscar Klefbom’s shoulder concerns started in his second pro year in Sweden when the 2011 first-round Oiler pick tumbled into the boards in a Farjestads’ SHL game against Vaxjo and he needed surgery.

Imperial, Sask, the hamlet of 372 inhabitants halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, has sent Knoblauch and Arizona goalie Connor Ingram to the NHL. Not bad.

One other interesting Knoblauch note: his first head coach in pro hockey was Oiler assistant GM Keith Gretzky, way back with the Asheville (N.C.) Smoke in the United Hockey League in 1999. Knoblauch also played with the youngest Gretzky, Brent.

Knoblauch has said he favours 12-6, going with four lines, but he opted to dress Philip Broberg as a seventh D for the Florida game. Broberg has had too much of that, frankly in his Oiler career. Not getting regular top-6 work. But, the Oilers have not had injury issues on the back-end, like last season, to open up a spot for him.
Knoblauch was the Islanders’ seventh-round pick in 1997, playing for the woeful Edmonton Ice (WHL), the year Isles’ GM Mike Milbury took Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer in the first round.

No surprise winger Raphael Lavoie being sent back to Bakersfield after his first six NHL games. He played 9:25 (Nashville) and 9:46 (Vancouver) in his first two but in his last four games it was 7:44 (Sharks), 4:11 (Seattle), 8:36 (Islanders), 5:52 (Kraken).
Lavoie is still the leading point guy (seven in five games) for the offensively-strapped AHL Condors. The farm squad has only scored 25 goals in their 10 games (4-6).

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