Monday, September 24, 2012

Oilers season will hinge on the play of Devan Dubnyk


For the Edmonton Oilers to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, if and when the 2012-2013 season actually gets underway, they will need to stay healthy and get consistent production out of their group of talented young players. However, no player will be under more scrutiny than netminder Devan Dubnyk. After signing a rather hefty two year extension, the time has come for Dubnyk to start producing on a consistent basis or he can kiss his dream of becoming a NHL starting goalie good-bye.

Heading into his fourth year in the National Hockey League, the time for excuses have come and gone for Oiler netminder. After being handed the starters role during the early stages of the previous two seasons, Dubnyk needs to show he can carry the mail from Game #1 and not just over the final few months of the regular season. At twenty-six years old, the Regina native can no longer be looked upon a "prospect" but rather, as someone that should be entering the prime years of his career. 

After closing out the 2011-2012 season with an impressive run that saw him go 16-11-3 with a 2.47GAA and a .920 SV% over his final thirty-two appearances, Dubnyk salvaged what had been a rather dreadful opening three months of the season. At the end of the day, his stat line was decent for a guy who played on a team that finished twenty-ninth in league standings but they were arguably no different than those of the much maligned Nikolai Khabibulin. Some may not want to hear that but it's fact...the numbers don't lie.

The two had polar opposite campaigns, in that the veteran tender was arguably the best goalie in the entire league for the first five weeks of the season, while Devan was lights out over much of the final two months of the year. At the end of the day, Dubnyk had a 2.67 GAA and a .914SV% and Khabibulin finished up at 2.65 and .910. Basically, identical numbers. Problem being, on this club...those stats are simply not good enough. At this stage in their development, this team is not good enough to overcome mediocre netminding. They need solid goaltending on a nightly basis, something Dubnyk has yet to showhe is capable of at the NHL level.

While some think that former head coach Tom Renney's plan was to use Khabibulin as the club's starter for much of last season, nothing could have been further from the truth. The fact is, the sixteen year vet earned his starting job back as Dubnyk struggled to find his game...despite starting two of the Oilers first three regular season contests. Even when the former Stanley Cup winner started to falter badly through the latter part of November and much of December, Dubnyk was just as bad. Leaving Renney little choice and ultimately stuck with Khabibulin much longer than he would have liked too.

Yet when the former fourteenth overall selection turned his game around, he found himself in between the pipes in 32 of the team;s final 45 games. Those numbers don't exactly strike me as a coach favouring one guy over another but rather going with whomever had the hot hand at the time. Seems pretty straight forward.

By inking Devan to a two year/$7 million deal, General Manager Steve Tambellini and the entire Oilers organization have shown they believe Dubnyk could be the answer to their recent goaltending woes. While this team may be a year older and a little wiser, they will still make their fair share of mistakes and will rely heavily on their goaltender to bail them out, from time to time.

No one is expecting for Devan Dubnyk to come out and turn into a brick wall but what is expected, is for him to come out of the gate playing strong and not routinely allowing that back breaking goal at the worst possible moment. If he can go out and simply do his part, Edmonton will be in decent shape to actually push for a playoff spot in 2012-2013. If he can't, this team is in a world of trouble.
   

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