February 02 2012 09:33AM
The Edmonton Oilers can stockpile all the talent they want up front and load up on proven defensemen, but if they don't have a goaltender they can count on, the rebuild they're selling fans isn't going anywhere. Is Devan Dubnyk the man for the job?
I don't know the answer to that, but if the Oilers don't give Dubnyk every chance to address the question in their final 32 games, starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, then they're making a huge mistake in how they are building this team for the future – and that wouldn't be a first.
When Dubnyk, 25, steps between the pipes against the Blackhawks tonight at Rexall Place, he'll be making a fourth straight start for the first time in the three seasons he's spent in the NHL – this is the closest thing to a real roll he's put together since the Oilers drafted him 14th overall in 2004.
Dubnyk gets the call on the heels of backstopping the Oilers to five points in their last three games, a stretch in which he's allowed just five goals on the last 113 shots he's faced in a 3-2 shootout win over Colorado, a 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver and a 2-1 shootout win over San Jose.
He's looked completely capable of being The Man in his last three games, but what about while carrying the bulk of the workload over the next 32?
We're about to find out – aren't we?
TIME IS NOW
Dubnyk, a former scholastic player of the year while in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, is a sharp guy. He's knows what's at stake here, even if he's smart enough not to get caught up in the big picture and let it interfere with the task at hand.
"I'm enjoying it," says Dubnyk. "You have to allow yourself to enjoy it and reflect when you do play well and put some games together.
"As much as you have to stay level-headed, it's important to enjoy it and feel good about yourself and your game, give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. That's how you build confidence. That's what makes the game fun. I always feel I'm playing my best when I'm having fun."
After a stretch Nov. 11-Jan. 11 in which Dubnyk went 3-6, he's been having plenty of fun during his tidy little roll, but coach Tom Renney and the entire organization is going to have to see more of the same, a lot more of the same, before anybody can say with confidence he's the guy they can count on to take over the blue paint down the road.
This is when Dubnyk, you'd think, will have every opportunity to grab the goal crease from Nikolai Khabibulin – not only for what remains of this season, but for years to come. It`s about time he stakes his claim, isn't it?
PUT UP OR . . .
After going 12-13-8 and outperforming Khabibulin in his 35 appearances last season, a lot of people, me included, were calling for Dubnyk to take the top job when this season began. It hasn't worked out that way.
It was Khabibulin who backstopped the Oilers hot start in October, so Renney leaned on him instead. Dubnyk didn't do enough to force the issue in his favour. This next stretch, then, represents a second chance. Dubnyk faces the Blackhawks with good, but not great, numbers – he's 8-11-1 with a .911 saves percentage and a goals-against average of 2.83 in 24 games.
"You look at any NHL team and goaltending matters," said defenseman Ryan Whitney. "No matter how good you are up front, no matter how good your top six is in the back, it always comes down to that goalie.
"You need that solid guy in the back. The thing for Devan is he's right on the cusp. I don't think he's quite proven yet he's a No. 1 goalie, but if you look at his recent string of work, he has been and I think he will be."
"Obviously, it's an opportunity to keep going and it's an opportunity for the whole team," Dubnyk said. "We all play together to win games. It's not just me, it's not just somebody else. It's as a team.
"If you can get on a roll and win games together, that's growing together and it's exciting to have that opportunity."
Yes, yes it is. Let's see what he does with it.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.