It wasn’t all that long ago that “panic” was an apt description of Edmonton’s goaltending situation. Devan Dubnyk was struggling badly, Jason LaBarbera was struggling badly, Richard Bachman was injured and it looked like the men in net were going to flush an otherwise decent season from the Oilers.
There have been developments since.
The interesting thing is that even as people – myself included – grew more concerned about the situation in net, the biggest part of the turnaround had already happened. There’s a theory that Dubnyk started upping his game after the Oilers signed Ilya Bryzgalov, and while I don’t think the rival’s arrival hurt the process started much earlier.
Let’s break Dubnyk’s season-to-date into three pieces:
- First four games: 0-3-1, 0.829 save percentage
- Next seven games: 3-3-0, 0.907 save percentage
- Last six games: 2-4-0, 0.917 save percentage
The two dividing points in those segments are a) Dubnyk’s worst outing, on October 12 when he allowed six goals on 20 shots vs. Toronto and b) the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. In total, Dubnyk’s been a 0.912 save percentage goalie since his fourth game of the year, meaning that the solution to the Oilers problems in net had already started being the solution when the level of concern was highest.
When Bryzgalov signed with the Oilers, the consensus view was that he was likely going to be tossed into the fire immediately. Dubnyk’s return to form has meant that isn’t necessary, which is likely good for everyone involved if only because it takes a while to get back up to 100 percent after missing the start of the season.
Bryzgalov is a career 0.913 save percentage goalie, making him a starter-calibre option for many NHL teams. As much as he’s an odd sort, he can stop pucks, and that’s what really matters. If Dubnyk falters for a short time, Bryzgalov can step in; if Dubnyk falters for a long stretch Bryzgalov has the ability to steal the starting gig.
Bryzgalov offers the Oilers the kind of safety net they thought they were getting in Jason LaBarbera, the kind of safety net that a goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury has in Tomas Vokoun in Pittsburgh. If Edmonton opts to continue with Dubnyk beyond this season – something which is unlikely at this juncture – it seems probable the Oilers will insist on hedging their bets.
The two big moves – the return to form for Dubnyk, the acquisition of Bryzgalov – make what was a position of considerable weakness into one of strength. Put another way, the Oilers went from zero plausible starting goalies to two.