Dear Devan Dubnyk,
My name is Ben Massey. I am a 23 year old white male from Edmonton, Alberta. I watched you play goal Friday night against the New Jersey Devils and was instantly captivated. Your grace, your agility, your ability to stop a puck without kicking an eleven-foot rebound directly onto the stick of an enemy sniper. I loved the way your glove hand moved like it existed, and the way your stickhandling made me not want to kill myself.
I am currently in a very, very long-term relationship with a middle-aged Russian goalie. When he was young, he was the coolest, hippest cat in Winnipeg, sprawling and making glorious saves and I swooned just to see him. But ever since he hurt his back he's been trouble. He reeks of vodka, he's always letting just anybody score on him, but everyone who sees him says that he's just fantastic. Even his boss loves him and keeps saying that he's the most valuable person he knows.
It's an awful relationship. I wish I could break up with him, but everybody keeps telling me how awesome he is and applauding every time he manages not to pee himself. This one time, he managed to stop a slow-moving puck from an elderly man in a blowout game and it was like he'd managed to destroy an asteroid with a nuclear bomb. Can you please push the middle-aged Russian goalie off of the nearest water tower? You seem like a pretty cool guy, and even though you're a young, athletic but technically questionable goalie playing for an awful team on the Canadian prairies I'm sure that history won't repeat itself again.
With much creepy affection,
(Wait, there was a hockey game too? Hang on, I'll get around to it.)
How far have I fallen as an Oilers fan? I am willing to write a love letter to Devan Dubnyk because he gave us decent goaltending. Pretty good. Perfectly acceptable. Nothing to write home about, unless of course you're comparing Dubnyk to Nikolai Khabibulin. Given that I am comparing him to Mr. Extreme DUI, I'm about ready to make Dubnyk a replica Vezina trophy out of diamond and plutonium. The horror of Khabibulin's goaltending, combined with the even more horrifying sight of the Edmonton media's continuing fetish for the man, made Dubnyk's fairly decent turn in goal look marvelous. He wasn't particularly at fault for any of the goals conceded, made a couple nice saves with something resembling aplomb, and probably would have gotten away with the win if not for the continuing adventure of our rocky penalty kill.
Maybe I'm not just happy because of Dubnyk. Maybe I'm happy because the Oilers played something like decently. Oh, the New Jersey Devils are off to a rip-roaringly terrible start, with a record that rivals our own, but I'm not buying it. No team that runs out Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott, and Dainius Zubrus can possibly be as bad as our gang that can't shoot straight who are still hoping Andrew Cogliano learns what the faceoff dot looks like. I speak with the authority of a guy who hasn't watched a millisecond of New Jersey Devils hockey this season, so you know this is the goods. I expected the Oilers to lose big and for more than the usual reasons. Instead, they put together a pretty credible effort in the midst of a very tough road trip, went up against a superior team, didn't look that much worse, and get out of the Meadowlands with a point.
I don't want to sugarcoat it too much. Dennis King, who is always watching, scored the Oilers' scoring chances at even strength as -9. With Andrew Cogliano separated from bosom buddy Gilbert Brule on the Oilers' second line, the Dustin Penner - Andrew Cogliano - Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson trio did not record a single chance for at even strength while conceding more chances than any other Oilers' unit. Derek will no doubt use this, as always, to prove that Dustin Penner is excellent and Gilbert Brule is terrible. As a fully paid-up member of the Andrew Cogliano Haters Brigade, I am unsurprised to see Cogliano return to form, but should add that given the old PCB Line's effectiveness, maybe we should play them together sometime. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is still some sort of wizard who can curse his linemates with suck whereever he goes: somebody with his professional experience shouldn't fly uselessly around the ice looking like he'd been parachuted into Stalingrad. It wasn't a good time for that line.
The rest of the forwards didn't look bad. Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, and Ales Hemsky went positively gangbusters, racking up positive scoring chance numbers and picking up a well-deserved goal for Gagner. Ryan Jones, Brule, and Jordan Eberle got slightly outplayed, which I think is the best you can expect from such a hacked-together line of incompatible elements on the road. You know how you make a sandwich out of whatever food is left in your house, so you wind up with olives, ketchup, and some really questionable macaroni salad between two pieces of white bread? Good ingredients on their own, but if you ate that sandwich and it was only "slightly bad" you'd call that a win. So it is with the Jones - Brule - Eberle line. On the fourth line, Colin Fraser was on the ice for two even-strength Edmonton scoring chances. Both of them were goals he scored. So an efficient night.
The blue line, you will be stunned to hear, was a different story. All of Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, and Kurtis Foster were some permutation of terrible. I am so sick of Foster, who is more-or-less Sheldon Souray without the hockey, that I am going to get an Oklahoma City Barons jersey made with his name on it and send it over so he gets the hint. The Oilers did get two pretty solid efforts out of... and I hope you're ready for the bombshell... Jim Vandermeer and Jason Strudwick. Given that my post-game threads are All Strudwick Sucks, All the Time, I have to give Strudwick credit for playing fourteen and a half perfectly reasonable minutes and emerging even in EV scoring chances on a night where that was the exception rather than the rule. Theo Peckham was reasonable, and Ryan Whitney was pretty good but, then, he would be.
It is true that penalty killing was an issue for the Oilers. It's also true that the referees may have been... overly concerned with protecting the New Jersey Devils while overlooking similar incidents against Edmonton Oilers. I mention this just to preempt the usual rush to blame a controversial loss on the stripes: the Devils got their chances on the man advantage but Edmonton's penalty killing didn't make it difficult for them. Besides, we were outshot 12-3 in the third period and 3-1 in overtime after running only a slight deficit in the first forty minutes. You're not pinning that sort of one-sided display on the referees no matter how hard you try. The Oilers were somewhat inferior to the Devils, and as most somewhat inferior teams do they lost. But at least they lost playing hard, playing somewhat well, and giving us an enjoyable hockey game instead of another five-goal loss. Even I haven't actually got that much to complain about.