There is nothing that can kill a team faster than bad goaltending, and nothing that can save it faster than great goaltending. Early in the year, the Oilers lost games they should have won because their netminders simply weren’t up to the challenge. On Wednesday night they won a game they should have lost because Ben Scrivens was in fine form.
One Week Earlier
Ben Scrivens gets called “the Professor” and listening to him talk it isn’t hard to figure out why. Oilers fans have had some intelligent, well-spoken men on their hockey teams throughout history, but very few just get it the way Scrivens does. Generally, it’s hard to say meaningful things in the environment of the post-game interview, but the one with Scrivens last Wednesday following a disastrous showing in Arizona was brilliant.
His balanced, rational assessment of where the team was at didn’t play well on Twitter the night of that game, but it looks pretty reasonable in retrospect. Even at the time it was easy to appreciate Scrivens’ objective assessment of his own play:
I can’t throw anybody under the bus when I’m playing like that. I’ve got to take care of my own house first. That being said, again, we played really well for stretches; we had just a shift or two like that. Seems like every shift we have like that it ends up in the back of the net. That falls on guys like me; that’s my job to try and make a save there, too. We’re definitely not pointing fingers in this room. When we start to win, which will happen, we’re going to win as a group. It’s not going to be one guy leading us, it’s going to be as a group. When things aren’t going well and we’re going through these growing pains we’re coming together, we’re sticking together as a group; it’s not a finger-pointing thing in here. We obviously all know individually we have to shore some stuff up, myself included.
Before and After
Scrivens’ poor start to the year can’t be put entirely on him; team defence (he fairly cited management of the puck in the defensive zone) played a role, as did circumstance. Opening night against Calgary went badly. Viktor Fasth got hurt against L.A., which meant that Scrivens was tossed into the fire; it also meant that instead of facing Arizona fresh he came in having played the night before, a situation which the analytics shows has a massive impact on save percentage.
All told, he allowed 14 goals on 70 shots over two starts and one relief appearance. Immediately following the quote above, Scrivens had this exchange with a reporter:
- Reporter: “What are you not doing? Last year you had some unbelievable games.”
- Scrivens: “It’s two games.”
- Reporter: “A lot of goals in two games, though.”
- Scrivens: “So? It’s still two games.”
In the three contests since, Scrivens has surrendered five goals on 87 shots against. Putting it another way, the opposition has gone from scoring on one in every five shots it takes to putting away one on every 17.
So? It’s Still Just Three Games.
Scrivens isn’t going to keep up the 0.943 save percentage he’s posted over his last three starts – his career-to-date suggests a solid goalie, not a reborn and slightly improved version of Dominik Hasek. But both he and the team really needed him to deliver this kind of performance.
The problem with losing is that everything becomes suspect. Even in a good performance, a goalie can be accused of fighting the puck, as Scrivens was in first the Vancouver game and then the Tampa Bay game. I heard less of it post-Washington, and the longer Scrivens can play well the more confidence there will be in his abilities.
As important as confidence is, it’s less relevant than results. Last year’s team got off to a terrible start and the goaltenders involved never recovered – both Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera found their way to the minors by the end of the year. When both of a team’s legitimate NHL options implode, there’s almost no way to recover the season; even a legitimately great team like the 2005-06 Oilers nearly missed the playoffs when the tandem of Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen collapsed.
The Oilers needed one of their goalies to turn things around. With Viktor Fasth hurt, that task has fallen to Ben Scrivens. As always, beware of small sample sizes, but he’s found a way to succeed despite some very public early failures. It may not be enough to salvage the season, but it’s been enough to keep 2014-15 from being a definite write-off just seven games in.