Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jekyll And Hyde

While a rather large majority of the Edmonton Oilers fan base almost instantly fell in love with Ben Scrivens after he was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a third-round pick roughly thirteen months ago, it has not exactly been a smooth ride for the Spruce Grove native upon returning to his home province. 

There have certainly been some high points, none better than his record setting fifty-nine save performance against the San Jose Sharks on January 14, 2014, but on the whole, his play has been inconsistent at best. After playing out of his mind during his first two months in Oilers silks, the final three weeks of 2013-14 was a precursor to what we have seen during his first full season in Edmonton. 

Last year came to close with a stretch of five in eight games in which Scrivens posted a sub .900 save percentage and coughed up one iffy goal after another. In 2014-15, the Cornell grad has managed to “pull off” the feat in nineteen of his forty-two appearances. Not surprisingly, the Oilers have lost far more often than not and their goaltenders have arguably not stolen them a single game through what has almost been five full months of their schedule. 

That all changed last night in Minnesota, where a badly undermanned Oilers side knocked off the red-hot Wild by a score of 2-1 in a game in which they had absolutely no business being in…never mind winning. While Benoit Pouliot was the offensive star on the evening, scoring a pair of first-period goals over a span of four and a half minutes, it was the Scrivens Show over the final forty minutes of play. 

Though Devan Dubnyk has used what had been a perfect 5-0 record against his former mates to turn around his career after what was a colossal disaster in 2013-14, it was the second time in less than a week he was asked to stop fewer than twenty shots in facing the Oilers. While his fifteen save performance on February 20th at Rexall Place was good enough to earn the “W” and his sixth shutout of the season, he ultimately fell short of going six for six against the organization that drafted him fourteenth overall back in 2004. 

On this night, the spotlight was on the guy who has essentially been his replacement in Edmonton and isn’t it funny how things can change, no matter how good or bad a team is, when they have the better goaltender. Expecting either Viktor Fasth or Scrivens to play, on a nightly basis, at the level the twenty-eight-year-old was at against Minnesota would not be realistic. Both have proven to be nothing more than very good backup netminders during their time in the National Hockey League. 

We are now sixty plus games into Scrivens’ career as an Oiler and what has easily been the most frustrating part of all is performances just like last night. When he is on, the former Toronto Maple Leafs guardian has the ability to steal hockey games but those performances are so sporadic that it becomes almost painful to watch. One minute he is making a save like his highway robbery of Justin Fontaine during the second period of last week’s tilt against the Wild and the next he is coughing up a god awful rebound which directly led to Nino Niederreiter turning a one-goal game into two-goal bulge. 

Even from a distance, watching one game after another unfold in an almost carbon copy like fashion is beyond frustrating. One can only imagine what it must be like for those players on that bench. Not knowing what to expect on not only a game-by-game basis but period-to-period, has to be almost unbearable to deal with. Show me a team that cannot count on their No. 1 goaltender and I will show you a team that is simply incapable of winning games with any sort of regularity. 

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