EDMONTON — It’s easy for us people on the outside to look at a guy like Calvin Pickard and toss around labels like “journeyman” or “career backup.”
Hockey fans — us “experts” on the radio or the internet — we haggle over which opponent the Edmonton Oilers goaltender should be deployed against. As if there are only a certain few teams at the bottom of the standings against whom he’d have a chance to survive 60 minutes in between the pipes.
Then you see Pickard play against the high-octane New Jersey Devils — and you watch the way his teammates played in front of him — and you get it.
He’s a pro’s pro who has stopped pucks at a professional level since he was drafted back in 2010. He’s that veteran middle reliever who can still get you a few outs, or a kicker who has bounced around the NFL — yet still puts it through when needed.
And if you think it’s easy being Calvin Pickard, you should try it some time.
Because it’s not.
“The ‘journeyman’ thing? I guess that goes hand in hand with me being in a bunch of organizations. It’s fair to say. I’ve been up and down for years,” said Pickard, who backstopped the Oilers to a tidy 4-1 over the Devils on Sunday afternoon. “But I’ve played in this league before, and I’m going to play in this league again. I’m confident when called upon.”
Pickard got the surprise assignment, breaking a string of seven straight starts for No. 1 Stuart Skinner. When the game had concluded, there he was: skating out the gate as the game’s first star.
“If you look at the (TV) cameras, you could tell everyone just has a big smile on their face,” said defenceman Vincent Desharnais. “Yes, we wanted to win, but we want to win for him.
“Overall for him today, he deserved that. He deserves this win.”
Before Pickard’s two starts as an Oiler season, his last NHL start had come for Detroit back in the 2020-21 season. Edmonton signed him as a veteran No. 3, that organizational goalie who could jump into the net in the short term in case of an injured goalie. Or, in this case, the implosion of Jack Campbell’s game.
He’s 31 years old and making $400,000 in the AHL, $762,500 in the NHL, and he might have just assured himself of another contract next season.
Don’t kid yourself — there are heaps of goalies scattered across the hockey landscape who would love to be in his shoes at this stage of a career.
“The game has been very good to me,” said Pickard, the son of an air traffic controller who was born in Moncton, N.B. but raised in Winnipeg. “Obviously I’ve had more opportunities earlier on in my career. But he last four or five, six years? Not so many.
“But that’s just the way it is,” he shrugged. “I’m just thrilled for the chance to play here, on such a good team.”
You could see that the feeling was mutual, that every Oilers player was aware that Pickard’s wife and children had flown up from Bakersfield, Calif. and a bunch of family had come in from Winnipeg, too. The Oilers protected the house in a fashion seldom scene in this building, allowing just 12 shots over the opening 40 minutes and — with Pickard’s help — killing all four powe rplays given to the league-leading Devils unit.
“It was awesome to see,” said Darnell Nurse, who had a game-high seven blocked shots. “How he gets along with everyone, he’s always asking guys questions about how they are doing and whatnot. He has a good grasp of everyone in the room.
“That is what makes him so special as a teammate. We are very fortunate to have him here.”
The Oilers have now won seven straight, reaching .500 for the first time since their season opener, that 8-1 thumping at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks that knocked them off the rails for a good three weeks.
They’ve found a solid, predictable defensive game to go with the high-powered offence that has always existed here. And now, they’ve got some goaltending.
“I don’t think anyone’s gone through a seven-game winning streak without good goaltending,” said head coach Kris Knoblauch. “Your special teams have to be good, and I think each night we’ve won the special-teams battle, or at least tied it. And the goaltending has been really rock solid.”
Connor McDavid (1-1-2) had another two points to extend his scoring streak to nine games (5-18-23), while Evan Bouchard’s 99.4-m.p.h. blast accounted for a power-play goal. He has an 11-game scoring skein intact.
Meanwhile, after allowing another four goals in his last start, Jack Campbell’s numbers in Bakersfield aren’t great: a 3.37 goals-against average and an .883 save percentage.
After this start from Pickard, the Oilers may not be in as big as hurry as they once were to give Campbell that call-up chance.