Jeff Deslauriers is starting in goal tonight and it may be his last start ever for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have only two preseason games after tonight, and it seems likely that the Oilers will carry only two goalies into the regular season. With Nikolai Khabibulin seemingly healthy enough to play, only one of Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers can stay. Tom Renney addressed the issue yesterday:
I'll look at the body of work here at training camp, as little as it might be quite honestly; I understand that. (...) I've tried not to [come into camp with my mind made up] in fairness to the two people. You look at the kind of year that we had last year, and is it fair to evaluate anybody under those circumstances, especially a goaltender, and a young one at that. So, quite honestly, I've really tried to operate off a blank page. I do have some history that I can relate to, but only if it's positive, quite honestly. I think a lot of people were exposed last year because of the nature of how things went and two no more so than those guys, so I think it's important to keep a clean slate.
I found Renney's comments very interesting. On the one hand, he seems to understand that training camp is a tiny sample size and that it's clearly not best to make a decision based solely on that. I think it's crazy, and the idea that they couldn't evaluate players based on the terrible team last year is a total cop-out. Tell that to Ryan Potulny, or Patrick O'Sullivan, or Ethan Moreau, or Robert Nilsson. On the other hand, he saw these guys real bad last season. I mean, we all did. If the decision was based on how the two young goalies played in 2009-10, he'd be choosing Martin Gerber - who, judging by these comments, seems to be out of contention - by default. For whatever reason, that doesn't seem to be an option.
So what positive history is there with these guys? Well, Dubnyk had that run to end the year and Deslauriers has a few really strong games here and there over the last couple of seasons (including one against Tom Renney's Rangers in 2008-09). Quite honestly (Renney-ism!), Dubnyk would seem to have the upper hand in that category, so unless he really screws the pooch in camp, I'd bet he wins the job. So far, Dubnyk seems to have been fine. And that means Jeff Deslauriers will probably be learning a lot about college football in the not-so-distant future.
Paajarvi - Gagner - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Reddox - Fraser - Jones
Giroux - O'Marra - McDonald
Smid - Plante
Chorney - Gilbert
Petiot - Foster
Upshall - Belanger - Boedker
Korpikoski - Turris - Prucha
Pyatt - Fiddler - Stempniak
Bissonnette - Tikhonov - Wellwood
Aucoin - Ekman-Larsson
Goncharov - Morris
Schlemko - Yandle
Some thoughts on tonight's game:
- The Phoenix Coyotes arrive in Edmonton tonight for their last preseason game before heading to Europe. As a result, the Coyotes should have a roster that's much closer to NHL caliber than what the Oilers have seen so far. Unfortunately, most of their top players (Doan, Wolski, Vrbata, Whitney) are all taking the night off. Nonetheless, every player slated to play tonight for Phoenix already has some NHL experience with the exception of defenders Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Maxim Goncharov. Of course, the only player the Oilers have in the lineup without NHL experience is Magnus Paajarvi.
- The Oilers are starting the game with one "sure thing" defender (Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert, and Kurtis Foster) playing with a second defender who's trying to make the team (Alex Plante, Taylor Chorney, and Richard Petiot). They did the same thing with their pairings against the Canucks. It's interesting to me that the Oilers are still looking at individuals rather than trying to find pairings that work well together in game situations.
- Shawn Belle is sitting out for the second consecutive game. I don't know that that means anything, but if I was him, I'd be at least a little bit worried.
- Alexandre Giroux, Ryan O'Marra, and Colin McDonald have played together quite a bit throughout camp, and I think there's a decent chance that those three end up playing together as a tough minutes line in Oklahoma City. If so, it's a great opportunity for O'Marra to add some offense to his game and perhaps find his way to the NHL. For Giroux, being attached to those two for much of camp is probably somewhat disheartening.
- Liam Reddox seems to be getting a small push in camp. He's had the opportunity to play with NHLers from the start and in both of his preseason games. He was also briefly featured in "The Team Today" answering a complimentary question about his improved fitness. I predicted that he'd make the team at the start of camp, and nothing I've seen yet has changed my mind.
- Ales Hemsky is far and away the best player for either team tonight, and some of the Phoenix defenders are quite inexperienced, so his line with Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi should look impressive again. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see those three start the season together. If so, it would be trial by fire for young Magnus since he'd likely be seeing some of the NHL's best defenders every night.