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Oilers' Skinner stays on even keel as his roller-coaster career reaches a new high

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EDMONTON — Stuart Skinner was born and raised in Edmonton as a die-hard Oilers fan.

Even in his wildest dreams, he could not have imagined that he’d break a team record held by Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr.

The Oilers are on a 15-game winning streak, and Skinner is on an 11-game personal win streak that surpassed Fuhr’s team mark for consecutive victories in goal. Skinner will likely be between the pipes when the Oilers host Nashville on Saturday.

What would Stuart Skinner, the minor hockey player, have said if someone had told him he’d be the Oilers starting goalie, and he’d set the consecutive-wins record?

“I would have called you out,” Skinner said after practice at Rogers Place on Friday. “I definitely would not have believed it at the time. Even if you would have told me three years ago (when Skinner was in the AHL) I would have told you that you were crazy.

“It’s pretty remarkable being in the situation that I am in, and being able to do this is all thanks to my teammates and the coaches and the amazing people who have helped me on the way.”

This streak represents a high point of a short NHL career that’s been a rollercoaster. The previous season, the plans were for Skinner to back up Jack Campbell, who had come over in free agency from the Toronto Maple Leafs on a five-year, US$25-million deal. Campbell struggled, and Skinner was elevated to the No. 1 role. He ended the season with a 29-14-5 mark, a .914 save percentage and finished second in rookie of the year voting.

But things took a turn in the playoffs. Skinner was pulled three times in the second-round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights and placed the blame for the series loss squarely on himself.

The Oilers started the season 3-9-1 and coach Jay Woodcroft was fired. Campbell was dispatched to the minors. Skinner had an .863 save percentage in October and an .888 in November.

But, through the rocky stretch, Skinner was adamant that “numbers lie,” that he and the team were playing better than the stats showed.

Skinner’s save percentage is a stellar .951 in January, but he hasn’t changed his tune about stats.

“To be honest, even when things are going really well, numbers still lie,” he said. “Stats and numbers, when you look at them, sometimes tell you a different story than what’s actually happening. For, me personally, I don’t know if you can trust numbers and stats as much as you'd like. We’re definitely in a better place, and I think that shows on the ice rather than on paper.

“The way things were happening at the beginning, I think those are the things that sometimes need to happen. I think, for us, it was a choice on whether or not we’d make that the best thing for us or the worst thing for us, and I think we’ve been choosing for it to be better for us.”

Skinner and back-up Calvin Pickard have teamed up for a 13-game streak where the Oilers have not allowed more than two goals per night. Pickard got the shutout in Thursday’s win over Chicago, and the first person off the bench to congratulate him was Skinner.

“It’s been really good,” said Pickard. “He’s been electric lately, it’s been fun to watch him play. He’s single-handedly won us a few games on this streak.

“Off the ice, he’s a great person, he makes it that much better for sure. It was nice to see him excited for me… it’s a really good relationship that we have.”

In good times or bad, Skinner is calm. He has an almost zen-like quality about him. He’s told reporters that when he’s booed, he feels grateful for having the chance to be an NHL player. When the Oilers were eliminated in the playoffs, he said it’s a chapter in the book of life that he and his teammates will write together.

Coach Kris Knoblauch said Skinner’s demeanour really doesn’t change, no matter if he’s lost a game, or if he’s on a record-breaking win streak.

“You don’t want to get too high or get too low,” said Knoblauch. “Through this stretch, he’s stayed pretty much the same.”

So, is Stuart Skinner the philosopher king of the Oilers’ dressing room?

“Being called an old soul is a huge compliment,” Skinner said. “It’s taken a lot of experience, life lessons, just like everyone goes through. We all go through struggles that give you moments to choose who you are.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.