Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports
In a city where the Edmonton Oilers have been selling hope for what seems like forever, one of the many leaps of faith fans were asked to take was that Ben Scrivens could provide owner Daryl Katz’s sad-sack doormats the kind of goaltending that would at least give them a chance to compete.
When the wheels came off Devan Dubnyk, who’d previously been a pretty good goaltender behind a Three Stooges group of blueliners, for a protracted stretch to sewer the 2013-14 season, he was sent away. In waltzed Scrivens, who arrived from the Los Angeles Kings with a shiny .931 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average in 19 games in Tinseltown.
Skip ahead to now and Dubnyk is looking like the comeback story of the year in the NHL. After stops with Nashville and Phoenix and with his career hanging in the balance a year ago, Dubnyk has found a home with the Minnesota Wild. In his 45 games, Dubnyk’s .927 save percentage is second in the NHL (40-or-more games). His 2.11 GAA is ranked third. His six shutouts are fourth. Wheels back on, he’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation.
Scrivens, meanwhile, has hit the ditch on fire behind a wretchedly inept, inexperienced and overwhelmed team. After posting a solid .916 save percentage and a respectable 9-11-0 record in 21 games with the Oilers last season, Scrivens has struggled mightily – he’s 12-22-9 with an .896 save percentage and 3.00 GAA in 48 games. That .896 is dead-last among NHL goaltenders with 40-or-more appearances.
With his best opportunity to lock down a No. 1 job after two seasons in Toronto and another in L.A., Scrivens has gone from might-be-the-guy in Edmonton to probably-be-the-back-up with a year left on the two-year, $4.6-million deal he signed. Scrivens has underperformed badly this season, even allowing for the hideous, mistake-prone bunch in front of him.
Hole in Goal
When Scrivens got to Edmonton he’d compiled a .910 percentage in 32 games over two seasons with Toronto and had that gaudy .931 with the Kings. In his 69 games with the Oilers, he’s at .903 with a record of 21-33-9 and a 3.01 GAA. All told through 120 games in Toronto, Los Angeles and Edmonton, Scrivens sits at .909 for his career.
Simply put, if your starter is a career .909 (let alone this season’s .896) you’re marginal in goal. If you’ve got a guy stopping pucks at .925 rate or better, you’ve got the best goaltending in the game. Of starters who have made 40 appearances or more this season, Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Dubnyk and Corey Schneider and Steve Mason occupy those slots now.
There’s a whole bunch of very good goaltenders sitting between .915 and .925 right now, notably Tukka Rask, Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop and Jonas Hiller. Teams can get by with a little less if they make it up on the front end with a dynamic attack or great special teams, but if you want a .910 guy to carry the mail, it gets sketchy. The Oilers, as we know, are neither dynamic offensively or blessed with great special teams.
Of course, there’s an Oiler Effect at play here with both Scrivens and injured back-up Viktor Fasth. Goaltenders behind a team as bad as the Oilers tend to see their percentage shrink and their GAA swell. Those numbers don’t tell us how many clear-cut Grade A chances they face, how many rebounds gets tapped in while defensemen stand around and count the crowd or reflect how the mental edge of a goaltender gets dulled by loss after loss after loss.
Stop Right There
With the Oilers the mess they are going down the stretch, Scrivens has had a percentage under .900 in 10 of his last 20 games. His career mark suggests he’s better than that. Given the flawed team in front of him, the numbers Scrivens has compiled aren’t all his fault, but they are his problem when he’s trying to convince GM Craig MacTavish he can be the guy moving forward.
Scrivens hasn’t done that. Now, with one year remaining on his look-see deal, goaltending remains one of the questions MacTavish has to deal with as he heads into an off-season with so many other holes to fill. MacTavish, his plate already brimming, has to look for an upgrade, another pigeon for the shooting gallery.
On a good team, Scrivens might be able to get the job done as a lower-tier starter. Unfortunately for Scrivens, the Oilers are a half-dozen moves or so from being a good team and we’ve got next-to-no proof MacTavish is capable of making those moves anytime soon. We likely won’t know how good Scrivens is until he’s out of here.
Sadly, that’s part of the problem.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.