With all the defeat and criticism the Edmonton Oilers have endured while skidding out of the Western Conference playoff picture, it’s only fair to point out a positive, or at least what I perceive as one, after an unexpected 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday.
Circumstances being what they are, I thought Tom Renney showed us a nice little bit of coaching against the Blackhawks by tossing Ben Eager back into the fray after an undisciplined performance in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders. Likewise, by giving Devan Dubnyk another crack in the goal crease after a less-than-stellar outing on the Island.
As ineffective as Eager has been this season, I’d have been tempted to sit him out — or maybe even give him the ticket to the AHL Lennart Petrell ended up getting — after his outing against the Islanders. Instead, Renney sent the burly winger back through the gate in Chicago and he responded by scoring the 4-2 goal, which ended up being the eventual winner.
Renney also opted to go back to Dubnyk, who allowed four goals on 29 shots in New York and has had his struggles lately, against the Blackhawks rather than give Nikolai Khabibulin the nod. Dubnyk gave up a soft goal to Jonathan Toews, but buckled down in the third period and finished with 39 saves to get the win.
I’m not suggesting this is a bit of strategic genius, but it’s a tough call Renney made with the Oilers struggling mightily – one that most certainly would have earned him a lot of heat from fans if it backfired – and it’s one that worked out.
Renney gave both players a chance to make amends and they did.
BACK AT IT
"Well, you know, you’ve got to give guys an opportunity," Renney said after the Oilers put the brakes on a seven-game road losing streak after defeats in Vancouver, Minnesota and Long Island to kick-off a tough stretch.
"Maybe down the road when we’re closer to a finished product, you know, in terms of our team, you can bench a guy like that or put him in the press box or whatever, but I think you’ve got to give guys an opportunity to learn from a tough circumstance, battle through it, gain some confidence in themselves because the coach does and move forward.
"That’s not to suggest that we would not look at an alternative for mistakes or poor discretion. That being said, often times people deserve a second chance."
Make no mistake, Eager has a long way to go to turn what’s been a clearly disappointing season around and win the confidence of his coaches and his teammates, but this might be one small step in getting there. While you could justify a seat in the press box or worse to send a message, Renney went the other way.
With Dubnyk, it’s more straightforward. He took the rap for his performance against the Islanders. There was no denial, ducking he had a bad game. No point in that. He wasn’t going to sulk if he got a seat at the United Center, but I’m guessing he feels a lot better about himself after bouncing back.
Again, no need to overstate Renney’s decisions tonight as brilliance with the Oilers still staggering and trying to find their confidence and their legs. That said, this might be one small step in the right direction. At this juncture, it’s damn sure better than even another small step the wrong way.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.