Canucks-Oilers Notebook: Skinner’s return, McDavid’s disappearance, and MIller’s growth

Edmonton Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch talks to the media about his decision to put Stuart Skinner back in the net for Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks after Calvin Pickard started Game 4 and Game 5.

EDMONTON — Facing elimination Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers will fix something that’s not broken, going back to Stu Skinner in goal after a pair of stellar starts by backup Calvin Pickard.

“We’ve seen Stu play unbelievable (and) steal games,” Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said Saturday morning, ahead of Game 6 Saturday night (8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet) against the Vancouver Canucks. “He’s been our guy all year, so in a situation like this, that’s who we want in net.

“In a situation like this, we’re going with our No. 1 guy.”

Skinner was pulled after 40 minutes in Game 3 last Sunday, and watched Pickard take the Oilers through the last seven periods. Skinner’s playoff save percentage (.877) pales next to Pickard’s (.915), but Knoblauch is banking on the fact that — since the Oilers turnaround began in the first week of November — Skinner’s .912 was fifth-best among NHL starters.

The takeaway is, when the team plays well, so does the No. 1 goalie.

“I’m very excited to get back in the net. Excited to get to do my job again,” said Skinner, who had to live with the fact he lost his gig midway through Round 2. “Any type of situation like that … it’s difficult. I’ve been working on my mental game for a long time here, being able to kind of throw that frustration down and just be the best teammate that I could possibly be. I had a lot of fun, and was able to get my work in.”

What does a goalie work on in a series like this, where Vancouver has shown the ability to score enough goals to win on minimal shot volume? Where both teams seem to score as many lucky goals as clean ones?

“A lot of it was just strictly competitiveness,” Skinner said. “These guys, they go to the net hard. They’ve always got two guys in front of the net, battling. It’s my job to push back a bit.”


After last spring’s disappointing loss, Connor McDavid gathered his team well before training camp for captain’s skates. Then they played 82 regular-season games, Round 1 versus Los Angeles, and here we are, with everything on the line in Game 6 against Vancouver.

“When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound very good,” said the Oilers captain, with a chuckle. “We know what’s on the line, but ultimately if you’re carrying the weight of all that you’re not going to be able to play very well.”

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McDavid’s production has stalled, with one lone assist in the last three games. He knows he’s the leader here, and this team tends to follow wherever McDavid can take them.

“For us (it’s about) going out and playing the game that we know how to, the game that we’ve played all year long, and we’re going to be just fine,” McDavid said. “We’ve got to play with pace. We’ve got to play fast.

“When shifts get long and we get stuck out there, it’s tough. When we keep our shifts short, when we play with the speed that we can, we’ve shown an ability to tilt the rink on them. To really hem them in at times and sustain pressure.”

Oilers winger Zach Hyman has three goals in this series, but the top line with him, McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went pointless in Game 5, while the Edmonton power play posted a 0-for-5.

 “Our power play had an off night,” Hyman said. “It’s not often we go 0-for-5. We’ll be better. We have a strong belief in our team, and whenever we have our backs pushed against the wall and we’re facing adversity, I like our chances.”


Nothing happens in a vacuum, and you can’t talk about McDavid without talking about J.T. Miller’s series for the Canucks.

For the second straight playoff series, Miller is largely nullifying the opposition’s best centre, playing McDavid to a draw at five-on-five. With one goal and six points in the series for McDavid, whose goal and three assists were packed into Game 2, Edmonton has been outscored 2-0 at 5-on-5 during 47 minutes of head-to-head ice time between Miller in McDavid.

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In the Canucks’ six-game opening-series win against the Nashville Predators, Miller spent much of his time matched against top centre Ryan O’Reilly, who finished with just one goal and one assist.

For a guy who scored a career-high 37 goals and 103 points for the Canucks during the regular season, Miller has fully embraced the defensive side of the game under coach Rick Tocchet.

“Right from Day 1, we challenged (him),” Tocchet said Saturday, “but he challenged himself that he basically wanted to become a better defensive player. I was always scratching my head there. The way his body is, the way he thinks the game offensively, the way he plays the game, he should be good defensively. And I think he’s chipped away at that. I think he’s really grown immensely in that role without taking offence away.

“He’ll come to me … ‘Hey, do I got this guy tonight?’ He relishes that role. And I think that’s helped him grow into that role.”

Miller has matched McDavid’s six points through five games in the series but has one more goal — the last-minute game-winner Thursday that gives the Canucks the chance Saturday night in Game 6 to eliminate the Oilers.


Injured Canuck goalie Thatcher Demko has become an increasingly hot topic in this series, mostly because reporters keep asking Tocchet about him as the Vezina Trophy finalist makes highly-controlled, limited, small-group appearances on the practice ice. Demko joined the Canucks near the end of their morning skate on Saturday, but did not participate in team drills. He took shots from a few skaters under the guidance of goaltending coach Ian Clark after the main session was over.

Demko’s recurring appearances has led to breathless speculation about whether he would be an option for the Canucks if there’s a Game 7. Or to start the next series if Vancouver advances.

But consider the following: Demko has not even practised yet with the team to track pucks and deal with NHL speed and motion; the last time Demko pushed himself back from injury ahead of schedule, he hurt his knee in his third game and has been out nearly a month since then; fill-in starter Artūrs Šilovs has a .907 save rate in relief, has given the Canucks an advantage in goal in most of his eight games, and when leaned on to close out the Predators in Round 1, produced a 1-0 road shutout under pressure.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are extraordinary times, and Demko is an extraordinary goalie. But given the risk to him and the Canucks, an appearance by Demko in this series feels about as likely as an appearance by Jonathan Lekkerimäki, the teenage goal-scoring prospect, just over from Sweden, whose name drew a “wow” from Tocchet this week when floated to the coach as a candidate to play against the Oilers.

On Demko playing, Tocchet said Friday: “I mean, that would be a stretch. I’m not trying to hide anything. He has been taking shots and doing a lot of good things.”


(Knoblauch referenced one potential lineup change beyond Skinner in goal. He mentioned “an illness” and said the Oilers will have an extra player in warmups and make their call after that. But he said Adam Henrique (ankle) will not play in Game 6, and Knoblauch seemed to leave the door open for scratching ineffective veteran Corey Perry, likely to be replaced by Sam Carrick.)













Di Giuseppe-Aman-Podkolzin





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