Whether it is fair or not, Devan Dubnyk and Roberto Luongo will be scrutinized heavily this season, and they are the focal point tonight. Dubnyk allowed two questionable goals on opening night, and until he cuts down on allowing "weak" goals fans, media and management will question the validity of him being a reliable starter.
Dubnyk has the skills to be a starting goalie. He’s shown that, but he struggles with momentarily lapses in focus. Former NHL goalie Mike Greenlay told me this week, it isn’t a lack of ability with Dubnyk, but his mental preparation. He needs to find consistency in staying calm and focused, and Greenlay believes the "soft" goals will disappear.
Greenlay was quick to point out that he couldn’t find that consistent focus and that’s why he was only a back up, and mainly an AHL goalie. Dubnyk has the size, skills and work ethic to be a solid goalie, now it seems it’s about being mentally prepared/focused for every shot.
Goalies aren’t perfect, but the biggest difference between the ones who carve out a niche as a top-15, top-10 or top-5 goalie is consistency. That will be Dubnyk’s biggest challenge moving forward.
Luongo faces a different kind of pressure. He’s proven he is an elite goalie, but after two years of drama surrounding him, Corey Schneider and post season failures, many are wondering if he can return to the form that made him a top-five goalie in the NHL. No one expects Dubnyk to be the Oilers best playe every night, but Luongo has been that guy in the past and he’ll be looked upon to be their star every night.
Luongo didn’t allow any softies vs. the Sharks on Thursday, in fact he kept them in the game with a stellar 16-save first period, but the Sharks ended up scoring four goals on 35 shots, which give Luonto a .885 SV%. It is misleading of course, because he kept the game respectable, but that’s Luongo’s reality. He’ll be expected to do more than just keep the Canucks in games; he’s expected to win them games by himself.
The Oilers recalled Ryan Hamilton yesterday because a few Oilers are battling a flu/cold. Jordan Eberle sounded like death on Thursday, and the flu bug can spread quickly so Hamilton is in Vancouver just in case one of the forwards can’t go. I suspect Eberle will play though.
Eakins tweaked his lines at practice this week, switching Eberle and Nail Yakupov. Eberle skated with Jesse Joensuu and Boyd Gordon, while Yakupov was with David Perron and Marc Arcobello. Joensuu and Gordon were very good in game one, so you could look at it like Eberle got promoted.
However, Eberle and Perron had excellent chemistry in the preseason, Eberle had 8 points, Perron had 5 goals, so it was a bit surprising to see them split up.
I’m not sure it matters what the line combinations are at the start of the game. Eakins used numerous line combinations against the Jets. He isn’t afraid to double shift players, mainly Taylor Hall, or try different combination from shift to shift. I expect that will continue tonight.
Excluding a switch due to illness, the lines look like this:
The Canucks will dress 11 forwards and 7 D-men because Alex Burrows is hurt. Burrows and Zack Kassian, suspended, usually play with the Sedins, but with both out look for David Booth to get the honour. The Canucks don’t have much offence after the Sedins, Kesler and Booth.
- Greg Chase was rated to go in the 3rd or 4th round this past summer, but he ended up going 188th overall, 7th round, to the Oilers. After the draft I wrote, he would be their best late round pick in years. Chase had 49 points as a 17-year-old, with limited PP time. Outside of scoring points, his best attribute, and one the Oilers desperately need, is that he is a great shift disturber. He’s mouthy, he isn’t afraid to give an extra stick here and there and he won’t back down. He plays hard.
He’s also very skilled. In July I predicted he’d score 35-40 goals with the Hitmen this year, because he’d be in their top-six. Right now he’s producing even better than that. He has 6 goals and 7 points in 4 games. He won’t score 1.5 goals a game, but the Oilers could have uncovered a late-round gem.
His game is similar to Steve Ott and Steve Downie. Ott had 50 goals and 87 points the year after he was drafted, while Downie had 16 goals and 50 points in 34 games. Many of the best agitators in the NHL were skilled players in junior, and if Chase continues to improve he’ll get a long look with the Oilers in a few years. His combination of skill, grit and agitation is exactly the type of player they are missing.
- Lowetide had a good piece on another Oiler draft pick, Mitch Moroz, last night. Moroz has 6-3-9 in 6 games with the Oil Kings thus far. With his size and strength he should be dominating as a 19-year-old, and so far he is. If he produces like this all season, he’ll turn pro next year with lots of confidence, which is imperative for success. You need skill, desire and heart, but no player makes the NHL without a healthy dose of confidence.
- Nugent-Hopkins will play Monday, and I think we will see him take Marc Arcobello’s spot. Eakins could move Hall to the wing, but having Hall and RNH down the middle is much more attractive than Arcobello and RNH. When Sam Gagner returns, then I think we will see Hall move to the wing, but for now I think we’ll see him stay at centre.
- Ryan Smyth looked slow in game one. It was only one game, but if that continues I don’t see him lasting with the speedy Hall and Ales Hemsky. Eakins talked earlier about liking duos instead of trios, and I think Hall and Hemsky will stay together. They like playing with one another, and both of them can back off defenders with their speed.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers lose 4-3 in a SO.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Every time the Canucks block a shot we will be reminded that John Tortorella wants his team to block shots. Hall has 5-8-13 in 14 career games vs. the Canucks. He’ll go 1-1-2 tonight and be a PPG in his career.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Early in the second period Dale Weise looks down to take a pass in his skates and Hall steam rolls him. Hall was livid after the Winnipeg game, because he thought Jacob Trouba was "head hunting," and since Weise nailed him with an elbow in preseason, Hall wants to send a message to the league he won’t tolerate head shots. Weise gets up quickly and tries to go after Hall, and Ladislav Smid jumps in.