Oilers can’t afford to wait for goalies to improve as playoff hopes dwindle

Quinn Hughes, Pius Suter and Brock Boeser scored in a 3:22 span of the first period and the Vancouver Canucks beat the slumping Edmonton Oilers 6-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

VANCOUVER — The elephant in the room had the top half of his gear off and his pads still strapped on, as the media entered a dead-quiet Edmonton Oilers dressing room after yet another 6-2, blowout loss.

Give Stuart Skinner credit. He answered the question Monday that no other player — or head coach Jay Woodcroft — will ever truthfully answer.

“It’s hard, because these guys are working their bags off,” Skinner said of his teammates, who sagged noticeably after Pius Suter’s 20-foot wrist shot beat Skinner for a 2-1 lead the Canucks would never surrender.

“We had 18 shots, I think, in the first seven minutes. Pretty impressive, and (Thatcher) Demko did a great job,” Skinner observed. “But that’s the guy I’ve got to beat out.

“I’ve got to beat out the other goaltender, and I didn’t do that tonight.”

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Edmonton goalies don’t “beat out” the other guy on any night, and that is Problem 1A for general manager Ken Holland.

The Jack Campbell contract is an albatross, and headed for a buy out, while the trajectory of young Skinner — who could still be a fine netminder one day — does not jibe with the trajectory of this team.

They can’t wait for Skinner to mature. They need a goalie — stat.

This was just another night where the opponent’s netminder held them in long enough for Edmonton’s goalie to fold.

It’s not Woodcroft’s style to single out poor play by one player or position, though his kid-gloves approach hasn’t brought any success either. But looking up at a scoreboard that showed 19 shots and one Oilers goal, then four shots and two Canucks goals, was a familiar knife in his players’ hearts.

“We didn’t like looking up in and seeing the score … but sometimes that happens,” the coach said.


“We can collectively be better,” he concluded. “I understand the nature of your question.”

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Skinner isn’t good enough — full stop — and he is better than Campbell by some margin.

Skinner might be someday, but he is not on this day. And it’s now that matters for a team that is officially a long shot to make the playoffs, an implosion that starts in goal and bleeds through a lineup that knows it can’t outplay its deficit in its own crease.

The Oilers stormed out of the gate, likely their best start of the season. Demko stopped a partial Connor McDavid breakaway and Warren Foegele in alone, all before they’d played 2:30 of hockey.

The shots were 19-2 for Edmonton, who had a 1-0 lead 11 minutes in.

Then Vincent Desharnais deflected one into his own goal at 11:30, and less than two minutes later Suter’s wrist shot sifted past Skinner, a scoring opportunity that ranked fifth or sixth behind the ones Demko had already stopped.

Another loose rebound and it was 3-1 Canucks after one period, another game where the Oilers skaters were asked to score five or six goals to overcome goaltending that is simply not anywhere close to playoff-level.

Of course, a player will never point the finger at his ‘tendy. Instead, they say things like Mattias Ekholm said, unwittingly laying down the tea leaves for us to read.

“The last two, three games we’ve had great starts, and for some reason we find ourselves in a deficit going into the intermission,” he said. “I don’t know if you can play a better first 14, 15 minutes. We’re humming, and it’s a break here, a break there, and all of a sudden it’s 3-1.

“That’s our reality right now. We have to work even harder to get rewarded.”

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Work even harder. As in, work harder because we need to score twice as many.

“No one’s in here is saying, ‘We’ve got to turn more pucks over, or give up more two-on-ones and three-on-twos,” said McDavid. “But for whatever reason, they’re going in. They’re going in off us, they’re going in every which way.”

For whatever reason.

Across the way, the sound of a winning coach:

“Demmer is like a smelling salt,” said Canucks coach Rick Tocchet, who has a backup goalie in Casey DeSmith who would be Edmonton’s No. 1. “We woke up after he made six or seven unreal saves.”

When was the last time you heard an Oilers head coach say something like that?

It’s the most important position. Especially when you don’t have one.

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