FINDING A SILVER LINING

I understand that fans of the Edmonton Oilers don’t particularly want their ranting and raving about Devan Dubnyk interrupted by a "look on the bright side" item right now. Fair enough.

Dubnyk, after all, has earned much of the criticism and scorn directed his way through his first four appearances this season with a shockingly inept, sieve-like performance – an abysmal .829 save percentage and a hideous goals-against average of 5.43.

Likewise, I completely get it why fans, who’ve endured seven years out of the playoffs, have been venting since Dubnyk again soiled the sheets in a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday, even if much of the venom directed his way is over the top, unreasonable and out of proportion.

"Dubnyk has stunk like ripe limburger so far." This is true. No question about it, and the TV shot at the end of the Toronto game of GM Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe after taking another big whiff of it served as an exclamation mark. "Dubnyk has always sucked and he always will suck." Not true. The second part, we don’t know yet.

There are no excuses for the way Dubnyk has played. He’s the reason the Oilers are 1-3-1 and have three of a possible 10 points. He gets no pass and if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry he likely won’t get the chance to turn them around at all – at least not as a starter in Edmonton. If Dubnyk doesn’t do something, MacTavish must. All of this we know.

THE POSITIVES

All of the above said, and allowing that we’re only talking about five games out of 82 going into Monday’s game in Washington, the Oilers have been far better in some areas that have been a concern for several seasons. They’ve addressed some issues. They are doing things right that don’t show up in that 1-3-1 record while everybody groans about Dubnyk.

. . . The Oilers have dominated in the face-off circles after being bottom feeders for far too long. Unexpected? You think? Boyd Gordon leads the way at 62.9. Mark Arcobello is next at 60.5, followed by Will Acton at 57.1, Taylor Hall at 52.8 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 50.8. Yes, again it’s just five games, but if five games is enough to get in a frenzy about Dubnyk it’s enough games to recognize, in context, what’s been going right.

. . . After being outshot in all but 11 games last season, the Oilers have outshot their opposition in four of the five games they’ve played. All told, they’ve been outshot 150-147, meaning they’re about dead-even overall despite being outshot 43-23 against Vancouver.

. . . The Oilers have scored nine goals five-on-five and two more while playing four-on-four, meaning they haven’t been getting outclassed at even strength, as was the norm last season under Ralph Krueger. At the same time, the power play is clicking at a 5-for-20 clip.

THE WAY I SEE IT

While fixating on the goaltending the Oilers haven’t been getting so far is understandable, the Oilers are playing better hockey under Dallas Eakins than they did under Krueger or Tom Renney. Not perfect hockey, not by a long shot, but better hockey.

If the Oilers keep holding their own on the shot clock and continue winning more face-offs than they lose, chances are we aren’t going to see the majority of five-game stretches play out at 1-3-1. That’s assuming, of course, Dubnyk or MacTavish address the issue in the blue paint.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Good piece Robin, I agree on all points.

    Even strength scoring and shot differential are keystones of Fancystats in hockey.

    Are you starting to become a True Believer? 🙂

    Question for you: With Arcobello tied to the team lead in scoring and 2nd in faceoff percentage, what do you think the team does with him when Gagner gets back?

    Joanne Ireland mentioned on twitter that Acton was told to “find a place in Edmonton”

    From my seat Arco is a better option, even at 4C.

    He hasn’t been given a chance to kill penalties and Acton is on PK1, but he might do ok there too if given a chance.

    Personally I keep both and move Brown. Gazdic does his job better than Brown and really he’s not adding much.

    Thoughts?

    • DSF

      If Arco can keep it up over the next couple of weeks and show this isn’t just a hot streak he’s riding. I would like to keep him at C at put Gagner on the wing and run lines something like this:

      4-93-83
      89-26-14
      57-27-64
      94-41-6

      You can put 20 in if you feel the need for muscle and 94 and 6 can play up and down the line-up as struggles or injuries occur

  • DSF

    “Dubnyk has always sucked and he always will suck.” Not true. The second part, we don’t know yet.”

    Just so I am understanding you Robin, You along with others – including me – thought that Dubnyk was a sub-par goalie all along?

    If that is the case you obviously must have been concerned when MacT failed to find a goalie who truly was up to the task of being an NHL #1.

    2. In regard to Eakins being a better coach than his predecessors, I think that is very debatable. There have been some key acquisitions – Gordon et al who have made his job much easier than those before him.

    Certainly thusfar he hasn’t gotten as much out of the young guns – Hall Eberle and shultz than krueger did in the early going last year – whether that is be cause of the coach is, i grant you, hard to say, but they certainly haven’t improved their play under eakins.

    3. And Have you been able to make sense of eakins defensive tactics? I sure as hell haven’t and on several occasions it seems to have failed apocalyptically.

    To be sure some things have been better this season than in the last, but where it counts – points – they are dead last in the west. Therefore the status quo trajectory is highly unsatisfactory. And doing the same things with the same people isn’t likely to change it.

    • Eakins is a horrible coach. He has got this attitude that he thinks he is Mike Babcock or something. Look at the minutes he is playing these guys and their minus numbers. Too much time on the ice for poor defensive players. What does he expect when the guys he has on the ice for half the game turn the puck over the most. I am afraid McT signed an unproven coach for 4 years and this will be a circus with egotistical Eakins running the show.

      • Mikey

        Sure you could just look at the box scores.

        Or you old be an informed fan and watch the game. Then you would realize that +- means nothing when your goalie can’t stop a puck. How would there +/- look if Dubnyk made saves on those 6-9 weak goals.

      • YFC Prez

        One of my biggest issues with Renney and Krueger were not playing their best players enough.

        It’s a little refreshing seeing Hall and RNH being the go-to forwards.

        I know he’s not getting that much love right now but Eakins is a good coach.

    • Certainly thusfar he hasn’t gotten as much out of the young guns – Hall Eberle and shultz than krueger did in the early going last year – whether that is be cause of the coach is, i grant you, hard to say, but they certainly haven’t improved their play under eakins.

      I disagree with this.

      The results of the first 5 games is that except for the VAN game, this team is outshooting the opponents.

      That was a fundamental problem with this team for years, and finally a coach is fixing it. The dividends are coming.

      If they have average goaltending this team looks like one that can rattle off 7/10 wins a couple times this year.

      Also, Hall had a real slow start last year and is at a point/game clip early on, even after struggling at C for a couple games.

      To be sure some things have been better this season than in the last, but where it counts – points – they are dead last in the west. Therefore the status quo trajectory is highly unsatisfactory. And doing the same things with the same people isn’t likely to change it.

      Results of the games sure, but the results of the play (outshooting, scoring a ton more 5v5)has improved immensely.

      Outshooting and scoring well at even strength always end up showing well in the points column.

      Some crappy goaltending has let them down.

      This team could easily be 4-1 and should be 3-2 and these conversations aren’t even happening.

      After watching this team sink slower into the abyss over the last 7 years I can finally watch this team and *know* they have a chance to win every night.

      If they can just get some average goaltending.

      • DSF

        So much twaddle.

        The Oilers next opponent is the Washington Capitals who are basically tied for 2nd in the league in SF/G with 34.

        Following that game, they go into Pittsburgh and will face a team that has a +5 shot differential.

        They won’t be “outshooting” anyone by the conclusion of those two games.

        • No question playing back to back against WAS and PIT won’t be easy.

          The whole road trip isn’t easy.

          Every team they play made the playoffs last year.

          Mind you, it was in the East so it doesn’t *really* count, but point stands.

          Its not twaddle DSF, its the sound of the hoofbeats of the the apocalypse coming for your middling Canucks.

          The Oilers will pass them in the next year or two and the Dys will sink into mediocre purgatory still without a cup in the history of the franchise.

          Oh well, maybe they can retire the crowd’s number again or some player who wouldn’t make the 2nd line on the Oilers again.

          So you got that to look forward to while Oilers just keep getting better and better and better….

          • Ha!

            A blind man in a dark alley can see they are getting better.

            I would expect a Canuck fan in denial about the aging of the Sedins, injury-proneness (is that a word) of Kessler, and the disastrous (long term) implications of having to keep Lou over Schneider to miss it, but most wouldn’t.

          • DSF

            Really?

            On pace for a goal differential of -131.

            In the last full season, they were -27.

            While I expect they couldn’t possibly maintain that -131 pace, the fact remains they are being consistently outscored by the opposition.

            You may recall that winning hockey games requires you to OUTSCORE the opposition, right?

            If you want to raise the spectre of “small sample size”, please apply that to your ridiculous assertion they are better due to their Corsi improvement.

            Games against Washington and Pittsburgh will fix that right up.

            The Canucks have their own problems but that has nothing to do how dreadful the Oilers are.

          • Admiral Ackbar

            I know most of us love to hate DSF, but he’s right on this one. The only credible teams the Oil have played do far have been the Habs & Nucks, they’ve been outscored 10-3 in those two games. They should’ve handily beat the Jets, Devils & Leafs.

            The small sample size invites speculation. I’d suggest that DSF is bloody right this time. At a glance it looks like the Oil have improved but I think that argument cherry picks only half of the whole story. The other half has been terrible Dzone coverage, putrid Gtending & excessive giveaways.

            I fear the Wsh & Pit games may be a bloodbath of copper & blue.

      • DSF

        Yes the TEAM of skaters is playing better, but hall despite more points in the early going has made far more errors/turnovers than last year and eberle and Shultz are playing much worse than they were early on last season.

        Yes the team of skaters is playing somewhat better than last year – certainly under some stats (I wonder what the turnover stats were last year compared to this year?) but that positive is more than counterbalanced by poorer goaltending. Thus my point stands – the status quo will result in far too few points. Something has to change.

        • Mikey

          You’re counter point is weak. So because the team is playing better but the stars aren’t the team is worse off? Nope wrong. Poor goaltending, has nothing to do with the coach.

          You really need to think threw what you are saying, you’re embarrassing yourself.

    • I have not thought Dubnyk is a sub-par goaltender all along, but some people clearly have based on the comments I’ve received on Twitter. My sense is it’s frustration over this bad start getting the better of them.

  • D

    Fan of Dubnyk here. My question is regarding his ability to be a clutch performer when this team makes the playoffs (whether it’s this season or one in the future).

    Is there a risk that Dubynk is a serviceable regular season goaltender who won’t be able to handle playoff pressure and step up his game to the level necessary to win in the post season? A comparable that comes to mind is Manny Legace.

    • Fair question, but we won’t have the answer to that until this team makes the playoffs, will we?

      Dubnyk’s numbers until his first four games this season have been quite good when you consider the bunch he’s played behind. This team is better than the groups of the past couple of years yet Dubnyk is struggling now. That’s thrown the spotlight squarely on him.

      MacT already looked elsewhere this off-season and there’s no reason to think he’s not doing the same now.

  • ubermiguel

    The way I understand it, Dubnyk has new born child at home for the first time, which I believe is a big adjustment in your life. Also, does the team have a new goalie coach? If this is all true? I for one will wait until he figures it out, it also sends the wrong message to the players if you throw a guy under the bus every time he goes through a personal life adjustment.

    • I was not allowed to put in a sub par performance at my job when my first or any children were born and I sure as hell wasn’t making $3.75 million. No goalie coach would tell him to not be square to the shooter, sit on your knees and wave your stick in the air, he is having one hell of a time handling the pressure of a #1 in Edmonton.

      • Mikey

        Sigh, why bring up money. Money is not a motivator for most people. And for the most part he has been square to the shooter, it’s everything else about the attempted save he has blown.

      • YFC Prez

        Who’s waving their stick in the air now. Do you need a hug? LOLL Please send your hurt feelings report in right away. First come first serve, just like at 7-11. You know the drill.

        • What kind of comeback was that?I’m stating facts since I played the game as well as coached and I don’t care were someone works but I probably could buy what ever company you do work for or are you even employed.

    • I’m inclined to agree SIUTBOHC is pending. Dubnyk has long had a habit of allowing bad goals, but his numbers when everything is tallied have been more than acceptable when you consider the group he’s been playing behind.

      I suspect he’ll return to previous levels in terms of save percentage and goals-against if he’s given the chance and allowed to ride it out.

      That’s the question: will MacTavish and Lowe be as patient now as they have been?

      • Kodiak

        They don’t have a choice. There are no reasonable alternatives right now. It’s too early in the season for teams to be moving their number one goalies and why would we make a trade for anything less? Barbie will get a few more starts but bottom line is they will have to let Dubnyk play his way through this.

  • Kodiak

    Robin,

    For me the big issue is that the guys in front of Dubey will get frustrated and discouraged if they know it is gonna take scoring 5 + goals a night in order to give us any real shot of winning!

    • Fair point. Statistics aside, there are not a lot of things more deflating to a team than playing well and losing because of bad goals against.

      At some point, confidence in a goaltender wanes to the point where it’s difficult for teammates, coaches and management to have faith they can count on that player.

      Not sure if Dubnyk’s teammates are there yet — they won’t say it even if it’s so — but my guess is that MacTavish and Lowe are working the phones, as they should be.