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Picking apart Calvin Pickard and where the Canucks need to be looking in Game 5: In the Crease

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
1 month ago
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Last week I wrote about the goaltending matchup heading into this second round series between the Canucks and Oilers and, more importantly, what made Stuart Skinner’s game perfect for the Canucks’ shooters to exploit.
Apparently that worked a little too well, because Skinner only made it through 2 2/3 games against the Canucks before giving way for a new netminder: Calvin Pickard.
Pickard is a journeyman netminder who began his NHL career as a member of the Avalanche in 2015, with stops in Toronto, Philadelphia, Arizona and Detroit before arriving in Edmonton. But even at 32 years old, Pickard doesn’t have the same recent NHL game log that Skinner does, so we’re working with a smaller sample size. After replacing Jack Campbell as the Oilers’ backup, Pickard started 20 games for Edmonton this season, putting together a record of 12-7-1 and a .917 save percentage.
Pickard responded to his first Stanley Cup playoff start with a decent performance, turning away 19 of 21 Canucks shots and earning the win in Game 4 to tie the series. But that doesn’t tell the entire story; the Canucks barely tested Pickard during the first 40 minutes, and when the urgency hit in the third, the Canucks made a two goal comeback look like paperwork. If not for Evan Bouchard’s stunning goal with 30 seconds left, the Canucks looked well positioned to steal another win away in the dying moments.
Now the Oilers are faced with a big decision for a pivotal Game 5: do you stick with the winning, more unknown commodity in Pickard, or go back to a struggling Skinner?
We’ve already gone over Skinner’s play in detail, but with Pickard the likelier of the two to get the nod from Kris Knoblauch, we need to break down where the Canucks’ best shot of winning could lie on Thursday night.
Let’s start by re-looking at the pair of goals the Canucks scored on Pickard on Tuesday.
First, Boeser’s game-tying goal:
This is as textbook of a “not all progress is linear” goal. Boeser recognizes that Pickard won’t get a clean save opportunity if he throws it into the six skates in front of the net, so he takes the gamble for a far side deflection instead of trying to pick a corner. Lo and behold, Pickard ends up with his outstretched leg no where near the puck as it banks off Dakota Joshua’s leg.
And finally, Garland’s goal:
Here Pickard follows the initial shot attempt onto Garland’s stick and tracks him skating to the middle, but with Dakota Joshua acting as a rolling screen, his glove hand can’t pick the puck up in time.
This might come as a surprise, but Garland’s shot from the high slot is the second farthest away from the net of any Canucks goals in this series, with Nikita Zadorov’s blue line blast in Game 1 being the benchmark. For comparison, the Oilers have four goals from a further distance than Garland’s.
Two goals, scored in unique ways but both ending up entering the net off of Pickard’s left hand side. And that’s likely not a coincidence. Here’s Pickard’s heat map of Expected Goals from the regular season, overlayed with where the Canucks shots came from according to Natural Stat Trick.
Notice anything? Keep in mind that while the 2-2 goal was credited to Dakota Joshua in front of the net, Boeser’s initial shot came from near the faceoff dot. The Canucks have figured out how to beat Pickard in one place, but they’re also ignoring a massive region in the middle of the ice.

Pick Your Spot

As is customary with Oilers goalies, Pickard is particularly vulnerable from the high slot. The Oilers allow scoring chances in those areas to focus more on preventing chances in close, exposing room farther away down the middle of the ice. Garland’s shot on Tuesday came from right around that space, and took advantage of a different weak point altogether: Pickard’s glove.
Someone was listening to InGoal Magazine’s Kevin Woodley’s hit on Sportsnet 650 prior to Game 4, and they highlighted this nugget of wisdom:
That tweet led me to take a look back at a few of Pickard’s recent games, and the number of glove side shots from players skating in off the right hand side was very noticeable. For example, let’s look at his last start of the regular season against the Coyotes.
Goal #1: Liam O’Brien takes advantage of a loose puck near the faceoff dot, catching Pickard positioned a little too far to his right and snapping the puck far side.
Goal #2: Matias Maccelli skates in on a breakaway off Pickard’s right hand side. Maccelli freezes the goalie at the hashmarks before roofing the puck on the backhand.
Goal #3: The Coyotes set up a passing play that hands Lawson Crouse the puck at the hashmarks. With no defenders close enough to prevent a shot, Pickard bites early and Crouse goes the same route as Maccelli; backhand, high glove.
Goal #4: Coyotes are on the power play, and Dylan Guenther receives the puck near the top of the circle with a single Oilers defender screening Pickard. Guenther doesn’t allow Pickard the time to square up, shooting it over his mitt.
These examples lend credence to the fact that Pickard has a lot of difficulty positioning-wise for shots coming from his right, whether it’s head-on from a distance or a deke in close. If the Canucks are going to find the same success against Pickard that they did against Skinner, they’ll need to get more traffic in front of the net and be willing to shoot from a little further out. As a more lean 6-foot-1 goaltender, Pickard’s playing style has a little less structure than most of his peers and relies more on sprawling saves. If the Canucks make more passes from along the side walls into the high slot, it would force Pickard to reposition and reset with more net to cover.
The Canucks’ ability to take more shots from the middle is going to be super crucial for their chance of victory, as well as peppering Pickard’s glove hand with as many pucks as possible and getting behind the Oilers defenders to deflect shots in close. Those adjustments may also help fix a struggling power play, as players often get bogged down looking for the perfect shot along the boards instead of trying for a larger quantity of pucks on net.
If Rick Tocchet’s coaching staff gets that message through to the players tonight, Game 5 will turn this series’ momentum completely on its head.
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