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Baby Steps

Jack Campbell's got to get some confidence back into his game.

Minnesota Wild v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Edmonton Oilers have played five games since the last time Jack Campbell made a start for the club. As things currently stand, Stuart Skinner has been the go-to-guy in seven of the last eight and taken over as the team’s No. 1 netminder. However, tonight’s tilt against the Nashville Predators might just be the point where Campbell starts to turn his season or have it spiral completely out of control.

That may sound like a tad much for a mid-December game but a quick glimpse at the Oilers’ upcoming schedule suggests it is not. After tonight, Edmonton has exactly two more back-to-backs on their dance card until the All-Star Break. In other words, if we don’t see an obvious improvement in Campbell’s overall performance versus the Preds, chances are he will become this club’s undisputed no. 2.

At the moment, there is little question who the Oilers guy is between the pipes. Campbell has faltered and to his credit, Skinner grabbed the opportunity that presented itself and has taken over. With that said, there are many examples over the years of goaltenders that have slumped badly during the course of a regular season and lost their starting role, only to reclaim it later in season.

The difference between the vast majority of those situations and what we have seen develop with Campbell, rarely has a guy looked as lost as the soon-to-be 31-year old has looked of late. While the inconsistency in his performance has been a thing from opening night, his overall game has completely fallen a part of late and it’s made him unplayable.

Outside of his stellar showing against Tampa Bay, which took place exactly five weeks ago, Campbell has looked out of sorts in the other seven starts he’s had since late October. Again, every goalie will go through slumps and struggle with their game. It’s the nature of sport and certainly part of the deal as a goaltender. Once a guy loses his confidence, it can become extremely difficult to stop pucks.

However, those things tend to work themselves out and a return to some kind of normalcy is expected. The problem with Campbell, this looks to be more than just an athlete losing his confidence. When most players hit that so-called wall, you tend to see certain aspects in level of play slip and a ridiculous amount of bounces start going against them.

We have seen both of those with Campbell but where his struggles have been different, his entire structure is off. Be it positioning, rebound control, an inability to track pucks…you name it and he’s struggling with it. At times, he gives off the vibe as if he’s never played the position at this level. Obviously, that isn’t the case but the former Toronto Maple Leafs tender is clearly in his head.

Unfortunately for him, the Oilers are in a spot where winning is a necessity and they simply can’t afford to allow him to work things out. They tried going that route and blew up in their face. It’s a tough spot for both Campbell and the club but it is the reality of the situation. From here on out, it will be all about baby steps and that first step has to happen tonight in Nashville.

Is it an ideal situation? Not in the least but it is what Campbell is facing. If goes out against the Preds and looks as shaky as he has of late, he is going to be stapled to the bench. Outside of the aforementioned back-to-back games, the only way he’ll get back into the net is if Skinner tires or sees a major slip in performance. At his age, the former seems rather unlikely and the latter shouldn’t be an issue either.

Remember, after getting off to a fantastic start, we saw Skinner’s game level off. Everyone knew it was coming but none of us knew how he’d respond. Well, since being handed the starters role on a full-time basis, his numbers speak for themselves. The Oilers have gone 5-2 in those seven games with the 24-year old posting a 2.74 GAA and .917 SV%, facing ton of rubber on a near nightly basis.

Those numbers may not pop off the page but for this Oilers side, they are more than good enough to help this group win on most nights during the regular season. Skinner has proven capable of being that guy this season and now it’s up to Jack Campbell to do the same. His shot at doing exactly that will start tonight and he would be best served to make the most of this opportunity.