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How Arturs Silovs’ confidence and solving Stuart Skinner will make or break Canucks’ series against the Oilers: In the Crease

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Photo credit:Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
1 month ago
Goaltending played a huge role in the Canucks’ series win over the Nashville Predators. But in true Canucks fashion, it didn’t go the way anybody expected.
Nearing the end of his first playoff game since the 2020 bubble, Thatcher Demko sustained a leg injury that could potentially keep him out for the rest of the playoffs. In went Casey DeSmith for Games 2 and 3, who performed admirably in those outings but didn’t paint a Picasso with them either. After DeSmith too ended up with a minor injury, Arturs Silovs finished out the final three games in style and sent the Predators packing.
But even with the goalie carousel, the Canucks were expected to win the series over the Predators regardless. But the Edmonton Oilers are another beast entirely.
This matchup will pit some combination of Silovs, DeSmith, and possibly Demko against Stuart Skinner, the Oilers’ homegrown netminder, who has a lot more question marks surrounding him than answers. The Oilers aren’t the same team the Canucks faced three times before December, but the goaltending battle should be just as entertaining in May.

King Arturs takes the throne

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have a habit of creating heroes. In Round 1, Arturs Silovs became one of the newest entries in that legacy.
Silovs’ first three playoff games will go down in Canucks lore, regardless of how the rest of these playoffs go. Silovs outdueled Juuse Saros in two crucial Canucks wins, and his shutout in Game 6 is a huge reason his team is even here after the injury to Thatcher Demko. Now he’ll get a shot at shutting down two of the best hockey players in the world, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Silovs’ confidence level far exceeds the number of games on his NHL resume. Part of that might be due to his time leading his native Latvia to a bronze medal at last year’s IIHF World Hockey Championships or just his overall quiet and calm demeanour. Either way, it paid off when he called into one of the most pressure-filled situations a goalie can face.
Such a small sample size means there’s no telling how Silovs will fare against one of the NHL’s strongest offences. But while the Oilers would more or less know what they’re getting in a Demko or DeSmith start, they’ve yet to face the young Latvian. What Silovs lacks in experience, he might make up for in myth-making. Remember being Demko’d?

What’s in the Stu?

On the other side of the ice, Stuart Skinner is the Oilers’ latest in a long line of goalies who feel like the human embodiment of Mr. Burns’ Mystery Box.
For starters, Skinner wasn’t supposed to be the guy heading into the season. It wasn’t until after Jack Campbell struggled in October and ended up getting demoted to AHL Bakersfield that Skinner took over as the Oilers’ full-time starter.
His numbers certainly didn’t look like a starter’s stats for a large part of the season. Skinner’s save percentage dipped below .900 in four different months, including a pretty ghastly .881 across the first two months of the season. But in January, he recovered from his rough start by posting a 9-0 record to go with a .953 save percentage, and his play levelled out to a more manageable .907 by the end of the season.
But that doesn’t mean he’s infallible; in Round 1 against the Kings, Skinner showed both the highest highs and the lower lows of his play. Like Silovs, Skinner recorded a 1-0 shutout win on the road in Game 4, shutting down 33 LA shots and putting his team in a crucial 3-1 series lead. In Game 5, he left his net on a dump-in that hit a stanchion and went straight to Alex Laferriere.
Like with Nashville’s Juuse Saros previously, there are holes in Skinner’s game that the Canucks need to try and exploit if they want to win this series. Let’s go to the game tape.

Game Tape

The key to scoring on Skinner this season has been to shoot off the rush on his glove-hand side. Skinner has a pretty flagrant issue of lining himself up to the puck carrier rather than the puck itself, leaving a lot of extra room that otherwise shouldn’t be there.
The advanced stats corroborate that story, showing that Skinner has allowed a lot more goals off his left-hand side than expected relative to the rest of the league.
The Canucks have used that info to their advantage before. It’s how Sam Lafferty scored this first-period goal off an odd-man rush in their last meeting, catching Skinner cheating off his line and shooting the puck past the blocker.
His glove positioning has also been a pretty big issue at times. The basic rule of holding a goalie glove is to stick the front of your arm out in front of you, just below shoulder height, with your glove angled towards the puck. But Skinner has a tendency to leave his glove hovering below the tip of his pads, exposing a lot of net above his left shoulder and making the distance to cut down on a shot in that direction much farther.
 
Skinner seems to have the most success closing off scoring chances around his crease. In that scenario, teams usually cater to their goalie’s skillset by trying to force players around the perimeter to the net while preventing any shots from the middle of the ice.
But strangely, the style of defence the Oilers prefer to play doesn’t do their netminder any favours. Instead, Edmonton’s blue liners regularly collapse to the net front, sacrificing more shot opportunities from the top of the circles to not allow any chances in close. It’s why Pius Suter was able to get such a clean look on this goal back in November.
In the Nashville series against Saros, the Canucks struggled to get pucks through an aggressive Predators defence that emphasized shot blocks. Against Skinner and the Oilers, the Canucks should have an easier time getting pucks to the net, but pouncing on any rebound opportunities and creating deflections will be essential for success in this series as well.
If things have gone totally sideways for Rick Tocchet’s squad by Game 5, don’t be surprised if they push the emergency button for a Demko pinch hit to save the season. But as long as the Canucks trust that they can lean on their confident 23-year-old goalie and use their past experience facing Stuart Skinner to their advantage, then people’s expectations for the next four to seven games could look a whole lot different than the final outcome.

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