It was Jake Oettinger who stole the goaltending headlines in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs first round. Even if it was a seven game loss, Oettinger took the Dallas Start to overtime against the favored Calgary Flames. In that first round series, Oettinger finished with that series with a 1.81 goals against average and a 0.954 save percentage and allowed only 13 goals on 285 shots.
That was Oettingers first “real” playoffs (we won’t count his very limited action in the 2020 bubble). Oettinger is definitely a goalie to watch making his sophomore appearance in the NHL’s big dance. Here are some other goaltenders to watch as the quest for the cup kicks off.
With all due respect to Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Bo Horvat, he’s the New York Islanders best player. With a 2.34 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, the only thing holding Sorokin back from being this year’s Vezina Trophy favorite is his 31-22-7 record (if only his team could score a few more goals) and also Linus Ullmark making history with the Boston Bruins. Now the much hyped Russian import between the pipes makes his playoff debut. The Islanders enter the playoff heavy underdogs against the division champion Carolina Hurricanes. If Sorokin is on his A-game, the Islanders can at least steal a few games and make this interesting.
Across the state, and across their own friendship, fellow country man Igor Shesterkin will tend the twine for the New York Rangers. Shesterkin was the NHL’s run away Vezina Trophy winner last season and a Hart Finalist. Shesterkin’s 2021-2022 season was nothing short of elite. This season saw Shesterkin come a bit down to Earth. We say “a bit down to Earth” because he is still a very, very good goalie, and sometimes that’s all you need. When he’s elite, there is no beating the Rangers. When he’s just “very go”, then New York can be vulnerable.
A great goalie could be the difference between lifting the Stanley Cup or having an early playoff exit.
Looking at Shesterkin’s regular season save percentage of .916 and a 2.48 goals against average would make the average fan think there shouldn’t be any concern. Then take a log at his individual game logs. There were 11 games this season Shesterkin allowed at least 4 goals. The Rangers record in those games is 4-6-1. Two of those games were against the New Jersey, a regular and overtime loss, who the Rangers will meet in the first round. Add in games were Shesterkin allowed at least three goals, and you get a 16-12-5 record in 33 games.
The Edmonton Oilers have been a good team for quite a few seasons now. Then again, any team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl has no excuse to not be a perennial playoff contender. The thing that has stopped the Oilers from getting no further than the Western Conference final, which they only reached once in the Connor McDavid era, was their lack of competent goaltending and defense. You just can’t outscore everybody.
Stuart Skinner is not a goaltending All-Star. He’s not a Vezina trophy finalist. He’s not even the type of guy most fantasy hockey players would start as their main goalie on their fantasy team. However he plays a very important part for the Oilers trying to finally break through. The Edmonton Journal may have given him a bit too much credit a few months ago into how much he helped the Oilers postseason prospects. Offseason goaltending acquisition Jack Campbell hasn’t lived up to expectation, and Skinner has been tasked to hold down the fort. Last year the Edmonton Oilers got as far as they did because Mike Smith temporarily found the fountain of youth. If Skinner can stay consistent and come close to replicating his regular season numbers, a 2.75 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, the Oilers Stanley Cup chances are looking better than they have in a long, long, long (did we say long?) time.