Saturday, September 28, 2013

Oilers drop preseason finale to Stars "B" squad

On a night in which the Dallas Stars dressed as close to an AHL lineup as any National Hockey League team is allowed during the preseason, the Edmonton Oilers simply forgot to show up. Goals from Austin Smith and Luke Gazdic paved the way for the Stars easy 4-0 victory, over what was essentially the lineup Dallas Eakins intends on using in the Oilers season opener come Tuesday night.

Netminder Dan Ellis had little to do in earning the shutout, stopping 20 shots on the night, while Devan Dubnyk was at his Jekyll and Hyde best down at the other end of the rink, turning aside twenty-five of the twenty-eight pucks fired his way. Edmonton were without their top goal scorer David Perron, who was a late scratch following warmup, and defenceman Andrew Ference, who was on a scheduled day off.

The Oilers got off to a slow start, generating much of nothing over the opening twenty minutes. Couple that with an absolutely dreadful goal against from Dubnyk at the eleven minute mark of period one and a bad situation got even worse. Smith's bad angled goal is the exact reason why so many of the so-called "experts" continue to have questions about Edmonton's goaltending heading into the 2013-14 campaign.

It's not a matter of Dubnyk allowing a bad goal, as every goaltender does, but rather when he tends to let them in. On a night when your team comes out as flat as a board, a goaltender simply can not allow that shot to get past him. Something which was not lost on his head coach during his post-game comments.

"He was average at best. That first goal can't go in. He knows that and I know he wants it back. He's a competitive kid and he made some big saves for us along the way too.It was an average night."

While it may seem a little unfair, this team simply can't offered to get "average" goaltending. In the grand scheme of things, last night was just an exhibition game and ultimately meant nothing. However, for the Oilers to take a serious run at earning a playoff spot, they will need Dubnyk to be somewhere between good to spectacular on a nightly basis.

Obviously there will be the odd hiccup along the way but anything more than that and this team will be in deep trouble. In a perfect world, Dubnyk would put this club on his shoulders over the first few weeks of the season and keep them alive until they get some healthy bodies back. Not exactly a small task but one that true #1 goaltenders tend to get done.

Gazdic would extend the Stars lead early in period two, beating Dubnyk on a three-on-two break with a perfect shot just inside the post. While he was far too deep in his net and had a clean look at the shot, it is kind of difficult to blame your goaltender when he gets beat on an odd-man rush from the face-off dot.

Veteran forward Vernon Fiddler would be this one on ice midway through the third, zipping home a loose puck past a screened Dubnyk and giving Dallas a three goal cushion. The Stars would add another into an empty net, as Eakins tried sparking his bench by pulling his netminder with roughly eight minutes to go but it was simply not meant to be.

Recently acquired tough guy Steve MacIntyre made his preseason debut for the Oilers on Friday night in Oklahoma City and it ended far sooner than anyone expected. MacIntyre left the game during the second period, after coming to the bench and clearly favouring his knee. It was unclear what caused the injury but for Big Mac to leave the ice, as gingerly as he did, the prognosis likely isn't good.

The loss dropped Edmonton's record to 5-2-1 on the preseason, as the focus now shifts to preparation for the regular season opener on October 1st. The Winnipeg Jets will be opponent #1, as they make their long awaited return to what is now Rexall Place. The last time hockey fans in the Alberta capital were treated to an Oilers vs Jets battle that actually mattered, was way back on March 29th, 1996.

Tuesday night can't come soon enough. Let the games begin.

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