The Edmonton Oilers had plenty of question marks around their goaltending going into this season. They have just as many five games into the year.
The Oilers are 1-4-1 to start the season and find themselves in the all too familiar situation of being last in the Western Conference. It is far too early to push any panic buttons and there are enough positive signs to think they will start trending upwards soon.
One of the concerning areas in the early going however, is the goaltending position. The position itself is not the sole reason for a 14th place standing, the Oilers as a team have been inconsistent defensively and have made their fair share of mistakes, but Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera have struggled so far. They currently have the league’s worst save percentage at 84.8%.
Dubnyk has been less consistent than he was last year and has given up too many soft goals, and LaBarbera hasn’t been much better.
The issue is that it isn’t like the goaltenders have been bombarded by rubber, the team has outshot their opponents in four of the five games. Furthermore it is the soft and inopportune goals that are plaguing the tandem of Dubnyk and LaBarbera.
Case in point, in Dubnyk’s last start against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Oilers outplayed and outshot the Leafs at Air Canada Centre. While the team defense was nothing to write home about, Edmonton had the lead on four different occasions and gave it up each time. They took a 5-4 lead mid way through the third period only to see a weak shot slide through Dubnyk’s five hole off the stick of Joffrey Lupul and the Oilers would go on to lose 6-5 in overtime.
Similarly last night in Washington, the Oilers took an early lead in the first period on a Boyd Gordon goal and had been putting pressure on the Capitals. Less than four minutes after that, a shot along the ice with no traffic from Brooks Laich eluded the five hole of Jason LaBarbera. It was really the only good scoring chance of the period.
To be fair the chance was as a result of a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins turnover and very poor positioning by Justin Schultz, however it’s a goal LaBarbera no doubt wishes he had back.
In three of the five games the Oilers have scored at least five goals and still lost. It isn’t on the goaltenders to win games for a team, nor should they bear the brunt of losses, after all there are five other players on the ice at the same time. Case in point, the chance above came from poor defensive zone play and shouldn’t even of happened.
Having said that, the goaltending is not where it should be at this point and those are the pucks that need to be stopped. It is only a handful of games into an 82 game schedule and plenty of time to right the ship, but the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
The Oilers are in Pittsburgh to face one of the league’s best teams and play six of their next eight on the road.
Devan Dubnyk was, and still is, expected to get the lion’s share of games this season. With all of the rumours about Craig MacTavish looking for goaltending help in the offseason, this year is where Dubnyk is expected to prove his legitimacy as an NHL No.1. So far he has looked like a goaltender lacking confidence.
I was one who believed Dubnyk took unfair criticsm last season on an Oilers team that was very poor defensively and he saw far too many quality chances against. He posted a .920 save percentage which was excellent considering the situation he was in.
This season he hasn’t had the same steady presence and has just a .829 save percentage in four games. Dubnyk has time to turn it around, but he will need to put some consistency together soon, as MacTavish likely hasn’t changed his mind since the summer and is no doubt actively looking for goaltending options on the market. The Oilers don’t need Dubnyk to be a Vezina candidate, just steady.
The Oilers have a better roster this season than last and even the Dubnyk of last season would be a blessing for the team.
What would the Oilers record be if Devan Dubnyk played like he did last year?
— Terry Jones (@byterryjones) October 13, 2013
The key for the Edmonton Oilers goaltending is to make the save they are expected to make and do so consistently. With a fast run and gun Oilers offence, there will be chances given up and they aren’t expected to make spectacular saves over and over. The Oilers are certainly putting up points and in the very least if the weak goals are limited, it will make a difference in the standings as well.
The next stretch will be key for the goaltenders, specifically Dubnyk, as it could dictate both the direction of the Oilers team for 2013-14 as well as his career as an Edmonton Oiler.
Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.