Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney called the only shot that made any sense when he named Devan Dubnyk his starting goaltender against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rexall Place tonight.
Dubnyk, as anyone who knows him would expect, handled the news with his usual composure when asked about getting the nod ahead of Nikolai Khabibulin minutes after leaving the ice first at the morning skate.
"There’s no way of getting around it. It’s exciting,” said Dubnyk after peeling off his gear. "It is a little more special because it’s the opener but it’s that much more important to approach it like a regular game. You don’t want to let yourself get too wound up."
EARNED THE CALL
Dubnyk, 25, was flat-out better than Khabibulin in pre-season, but hockey conventions being what they are — due respect shown for good, veteran pros like Khabibulin and all that — there was some doubt as to who Renney would throw out against the Penguins.
"There is a point in time where you have to give that young guy a chance to assume that responsibility and see how he deals with it ,” Renney said. "We’re still growing people here.
"Khabby is going to play a lot for us, but in the growth of a young player, we need to do this to see where he is."
Renney made something of a statement — a welcome one, at that — with Dubnyk as his choice. Now, it’s time for Dubnyk to make one of his own against a Pittsburgh outfit that’s scored nine goals without Sidney Crosby in the line-up in jumping out to a 2-0 start.
"I don’t want to go out there and think that this all of sudden means I’ve been handed the starting job," Dubnyk said. "It’s one game.
"It’s exciting for me and it’s certainly an honour to be able to start the season but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m playing 82 games this year. I still have to earn every minute I get here."
PAD SAYS 26 FOR SMYTH
Ryan Smyth begins his encore with the Oilers tonight and I was flattered that he hasn’t forgotten a tradition we used to have back during my days on the beat, when he was a kid making a name for himself.
I’ve told the story before, but once more for those who haven’t heard it. Before the start of the 1999-2000 season, Smyth and I were chatting and he asked me how many goals I figured he’d score that year. I wrote down 28, circled it and showed him. He scored 28 that season.
After that, at some point during every pre-season, Smyth made a habit of asking me what my trusty notepad was telling me. To be honest, I was hit-and-miss, but after getting it right that first year, Smyth was hooked. "So, what does the pad say?" Smyth asked this morning.
The pad says 26.
THE WAY I SEE IT
— Having talked to former Oiler tough guy Steve MacIntyre at Kinsmen Arena a day or two before he left for training camp with the Penguins, I’d be giving him a wide berth at Rexall Place tonight.
Of course, Darcy Hordichuk, isn’t me, and that’s why I get the feeling we’ll be seeing the fearless old scrapper willing to throw down with the hulking MacIntyre at the first opportunity, as nuts as that sounds.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hordichuk, almost always outsized and overmatched physically when the gloves come off, initiate pleasantries with MacIntyre, even if he’s blinking and blowing snot bubbles the first time they line up.
— Jim Matheson figures three straight road games, including a late one last night in Calgary, in a span of four nights might have the Penguins a little bit weary and he’s picking a win for the Oilers tonight.
Tough to bet against the hall-of-famer, who’s seen it all, but I’m thinking the Pens win it 4-2.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.