MacTavish: Goaltending, depth scoring among Oilers’ big questions

Over the years though having these conversations about the quality of goalstending I came to one conclusion. If you have to ask the question you know the answer because good goaltending is obvious.

Published May 13, 2024Last updated 8 hours ago5 minute read

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As told to Jim Matheson.

The big question for me is the goal-tending. Leaving the rink it was the question on everybody’s lips. Who do you start in Game 4 (Stu Skinner or backup Calvin Pickard)? And they’re going to have to spit out the right answer.

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As a former coach, I would be doing exactly what Kris Knoblauch is doing. He’s going to canvas and talk to his coaching staff, (goalie coach) Dustin Schwartz, about what he thinks. After that, he’ll spit out an answer. It’s either they give Stu a rest and go with Cal or Stu’s been our guy all year long, we have confidence in him, we’re going with him and he’ll come back with a really good game. It will be interesting to see which one they choose. As a player it’s so spontaneous, you’re just out there reacting. But for a goalie, the puck’s coming quickly to you. I’ve always felt the most pressure-packed position in sports is the mother of the goalie.

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The Oilers were pretty dominant in the third (22-3 shot advantage). The bottom line is Arturs Silovs outplayed Stu in Game 3. When you get outplayed at that position, sometimes it’s hard to win.

The Oilers didn’t let Stu talk last night, and that’s interesting. My sense is you purge it after the game and you don’t have to deal with it later. Now that Stu didn’t talk to the media after the game, obviously, they’ll want to talk to him today. My sense is to deal with it right after the game. Maybe he was banged up a bit, maybe not emotionally ready for that. You can’t underestimate how important that is for a goalie who perceptually hasn’t played a great game to talk to the media right after the game. It’s hard.

Stu is an unbelievable person and he’s a real stand-up guy. Maybe he just didn’t want to do it. I respect that. I love him, he’s done a great job for the Oilers. But playing goal is not a shrinking violet position.

Over the years though having these conversations about the quality of goalstending I came to one conclusion. If you have to ask the question you know the answer because good goaltending is obvious. You’re not saying he should have it, he shouldn’t have had it. Good goaltending? You just get it. Like with Roli (Dwayne Roloson in the 2006 Oiler ride to the Cup final with MacTavish as coach), that was unbelievable goal-tending. I would never say anything less.

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How do the Oilers get away from playing their two best players (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) for half the game and their one defenseman, Evan Bouchard, for 30 minutes? You have to do that. You don’t have any choice. Who’s going to score (bottom six or even bottom 9)? (Connor)Brown? (Ryan) McLeod. It doesn’t look likely that those guys are going to pick up the offense. No matter how many minutes they are getting, they’re just not doing it. They’ve had enough opportunity to contribute and haven’t done it. You can wish it will happen, but it’s not looking likely.

Yeah, hopefully, the Oilers can get a lead and not have to play them as much but, in games I’m seeing, as a coach, I’m calling their number all night long. Two minutes on the power play, for sure. I mean it was good that the second unit got a power play goal on their first one. But, this group is going to win or lose on the backs of McDavid, Draisaitl, (Zach) Hyman, Bouchard and (Mattias) Ekholm.

If you’re going to win in the playoffs, you’re going to do it occasionally with goal-tending or with your depth scoring chipping in. If you don’t get either of those, it’s going to be very difficult to win. Can the Oilers win with just the Fab 5 scoring? Yeah, they can because they’re that good, but is it sustainable to go on a Cup run with five guys? Unlikely. They have to get scoring from other people so they can roll the lines five-on-five. Guys like Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) — he’ll have to score.

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What do they say? The greats do it on demand, when you need it they can make it happen. That’s what separates the greats from the good. The good players can capitalize but they can’t create on demand. The greats cane. Leon can. Connor can, although Vancouver did a fantastic job on him last night. They’re making him pay a price with hard minutes.

That (JT) Miller is such an underrated player. He can do it all and he’s having a Messier-type series where he’s physical, talented and productive. He’s driving the bus to Vancouver. He’s playing so good right now and so is (Elias) Lindholm. I think you keep Leon with Connor, they’re so dominant together. I mean they both had four points in the Game 2 win. To separate them? Miller or Lindholm (checking center), pick your poison?

type="image/webp"> type="image/jpeg"> type="image/webp"> type="image/jpeg"> type="image/webp">Oilers Canucks McDavid>>>>>
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers gets knocked down by Carson Soucy and JT Miller of the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Arena on May 10, 2024 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images

I thought the Oilers pushed hard but you have to give Vancouver a lot of credit and Rick Tocchet a lot of credit for devising a game plan to try and slow Connor down. They were bumping him everywhere and even at the end of the game where they went after him, as distant as those types of tactics are, they’re necessary if you’re going to beat Edmonton.

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For me, it’s (Carson Soucy cross-check to McDavid’s throat after the final whistle) a suspension. I like Soucy a lot, he’s played great and he’s a local kid (Irma) so I cheer for him but you can’t do that. And (Nikita) Zadorov banging him from behind before that ($5000 cross-checking fine), which made Connor fall down a bit. Soucy probably hits Connor in the chest if Zadorov doesn’t cross-check him.

The first period for the Oilers was not good. On Boeser’s first goal, Connor and Ekholm were both on Miller in the corner. My rule from a coaching perspective was this: if you’re going to leave the middle (McDavid) and close a guy on the wall, you better kill the play. Otherwise, you’ve made a mistake because you’re going from a dangerous area to a non-dangerous area. If you don’t kill it, you see Boeser shooting it into the net.

For me, the Oiler loss was also a byproduct of what I thought were really questionable calls. There was an interference call on Leon in the first and they got a power play and scored. They’re just making that one up. That was a very poor call for me. Leon was on his own ice. Then the one on Darnell (Nurse) at the end of the second period for cross-checking and they scored again. That was an iffy call. And the Oilers hit a lot of posts (four).

What I’ll say is margin for error is going to be shrinking as the playoffs go on.

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