Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney can send the right message by starting Devan Dubnyk in goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday, but so far he hasn’t said publicly he will give him the nod over Nikolai Khabibulin. Privately? We don’t know.
Renney, as coaches often do, has had some fun keeping reporters and fans guessing as to who’ll get the call, but when in comes to deciding based on merit and who, to paraphrase Renney, gives the Oilers the best chance to win Sunday, Dubnyk seems the obvious choice. Whether he’s Renney’s choice remains to be seen.
Really, is this a tough call?
MAKE A STATEMENT
Dubnyk, 25, has outperformed Khabibulin by a wide margin this pre-season. It isn’t close. In 187 minutes through four games played, Dubnyk posted a 1.60 goals-against average and a .947 saves percentage.
Khabibulin, 38, had the crease for 151 minutes through three games and finished at 2.38 and .872, his numbers hurt by one atrocious outing in which he allowed three goals on 10 shots.
Those who suggest you can’t judge too heavily on pre-season results against less-than-complete NHL have a point. After all, had Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle stunk this pre-season (the didn’t), they wouldn’t be looking at fourth-line duty or tickets to Oklahoma City.
Fact is, though, Dubnyk has performed better than Khabibulin since the start of last season. He went 12-13-8 with a 2.71 and .916. Khabibulin was 10-32-4 with a 3.40 and .890. We all know this already.
With two more years on Khabibulin’s contract, and recognizing a pretty good career and seniority and all that, I get it why Renney isn’t about to publicly kick Khabibulin to the curb. He shouldn’t.
Likewise, giving Khabibulin the start Sunday doesn’t mean Dubnyk won’t get more work, likely the majority of it, this season. He should. That said, there is a degree of symbolism in that first start.
The way I see it, the Oilers will be best-served moving forward if Renney uses that opportunity Sunday to give Dubnyk his chance and see what he does with it. Make a statement.
THIS AND THAT
— Jason Gregor asked me Thursday who I’m picking to lead the Oilers in scoring this season. I’ll say now what I said then: if Ales Hemsky plays something approaching a full season, 75 games or more, I expect he’ll be the guy. I’m thinking 68-70 points.
Again, assuming something close to a full season, my best guess is Hall will lead the Oilers in goal scoring, something in the range of 28-32, edging Eberle for the honour.
— By putting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Hall and Hemsky, Renney is giving the kid every chance to succeed and that’s how it should be. Going into camp, before Sam Gagner got injured, it looked like Nugent-Hopkins might be shoe-horned into duty on the third or fourth lines. Better he be in Red Deer than cast in a role like that.
— If Nugent-Hopkins excels through nine games and sticks here, using a year of his entry level contract, where does Gagner fit? If it Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner on the first and second lines, does it make sense to have Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger playing on the third and fourth lines? And if Lander impresses, what of him?
— About that blue line . . .
UPDATE: MARTINDALE SIGNS
Via Oilers news release:
"General Manager Steve Tambellini announced today the Edmonton Oilers have agreed to terms with centre Ryan Martindale on a three-year entry level contract.
Martindale, 19, spent last season with the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League, playing in 65 games, collecting 83 points (34G, 49A) and 28 penalty minutes.
The 6’3", 207-pound Brooklin, Ontario native played his entire junior hockey career with Ottawa, recording 207 points (84G, 123A) and 97 penalty minutes in 243 games played.
Martindale, who was Edmonton’s 5th choice (3rd round), 61st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, is currently with the Oilers top affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.