Our pre-game coverage of the Oilers-Sharks tilt included a number of warnings about starting Nikolai Khabibulin in goal in San Jose. Dawgbone summed it up best:
So here you have this aging veteran goalie who has a history of injuries. He hasn’t played in over 9 months, suffered an injury in camp and started out on the IR. Did it ever occur to use a conditioning stint in OKC to maybe get him game ready?
But surprisingly the idea of starting Devan Dubnyk caused a couple of commenters and more than a few Twitters to bristle. "The game is a probable loss, save Dubnyk and put Khabibulin out there." Except that giving up points is a bad idea. Yes, giving up points has been a staple of Oilers' management since...forever, but good teams don't give up points, and if the Oilers want to be a good team, they've got to beg, borrow and steal for every point available to them. Starting Nikolai Khabibulin in any circumstance is giving up points, but starting him coming off of 9 months of rest against the hottest team in the league is handing over the game. Even though Devan Dubnyk was probably exhausted and down 10 pounds, if the Oilers wanted to have a chance against the Sharks he had to be in goal.
And he responded. Dubnyk was brilliant. The Sharks outshot the Oilers 38-28 and Dubnyk stopped 36 shots - the only two goals he surrendered were 1-on-nones to Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski (more on those later). The Oilers were outplayed in this one, which is to be expected, especially on the tail end of a back-to-back, but Dubnyk held them in it. He lost a shootout, essentially a coinflip, to the hottest team in the league right now.
The Sharks are good and will get better when Brent Burns returns from the IR, and it's not a bad thing to be outplayed by one of the better teams in the league. For Dubnyk to hold the Oilers in it 20 hours after beating Phoenix was an impressive performance. It was a loss, but it sure felt like the Oilers won something.
Dubnyk was fantastic from start to finish. The Sharks outshot the Oilers in periods 2, 3, and OT, but Dubnyk was always in the right place. Even in the first period when the Oilers had the shots advantage, the Sharks were getting better chances and Dubnyk was turning them back. He's not a dynamic goalie, but he uses his size to his advantage. He does drop to the butterfly too quickly at times, but when he's on the angle, he can stop pucks. The performance reminded me of Dwayne Roloson beating the Sharks in 2008 when he stopped 48 of 49 shots.
The Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky line was outstanding at times in this one. Hemsky is back to his old creative self, coming up with passing lanes through sheer will and finding open men. Yakupov is learning quickly and Gagner has always been a nice centre for good players.
Without Shawn Horcoff to carry the load, Ralph Krueger was more than willing to put the Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle line out against Joe Thornton, which could've been disastrous, but Krueger gained the advantage by carefully controlling faceoffs. Sam Gagner took just 4 defensive zone faceoffs and Hopkins took just 3. Eric Belanger took 11. Game management was key to that line's performance.
Without Shawn Horcoff to carry the load, all of the unappreciated dirty work fell to Eric Belanger and he did...okay, which might sound bad, but given the circumstances, it was a nice performance. Belanger had the defensive and penalty killing responsibilities (11 defensive zone faceoffs, but only won 3) and wasn't exposed.
The Nail Yakupov - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky line was terrible at times in this one. Yakupov and Gagner took terrible penalties and Hemsky disappeared for a very long stretch in the third period.
Ladislav Smid's wonderful set-up pass to Joe Pavelski showed why Jeff Petry handles nearly 90% of the breakouts started by the defense when those two are on the ice. And the instant reaction of a few folks on Twitter who blamed Hemsky and Yakupov was hilarious.
The Sharks were permitted to skates down the middle of the ice and down the slot a number of times in the first period and again in the 3rd. I touched on this before, but the Hopkins line has to backcheck and play defense. It's obviously a problem when the Sportsnet crew already has on-air excuses for them (Debrusk's "The best defense is a good offense" canard) and they need to be as vigilant on defense as they are exciting on offense. They're supremely lucky that Dubnyk was there for them.
After combining for a brutal 8-21 against Phoenix, Gagner and Hopkins combined to go 10-24 in the faceoff circle against the Sharks. Surprisingly, they were 5-7 in the defensive zone, but just 1-11 in the neutral zone. Maybe they're defensive zone specialists? Hey but Anton Lander helped with his 0-3. Krueger should probably talk to Craig MacTavish about implement FOGO with Horcoff and Belanger.
Justin Schultz' proclivity to pinch got the best of him a few times when he was trapped in the offensive zone as play headed the other way.
I think I'm just going to leave a permanent paragraph in this spot dedicated to Ryan Whitney. We've exited the orbit of "frustrating to watch", we've left "infuriating to watch" in the rear view mirror. At this point, Whitney is not an NHL defenseman. I know he's "sublime with the puck" and "incredible on the breakout", but he can't move on defense and can't pivot without hopping into the air. His turnover that led to the Logan Couture goal was inexcusable for a player who exists solely for puckhandling and passing. He played 20+ minutes against the Sharks. The '84 Oilers would struggle to beat the Sharks with Ryan Whitney logging 20 minutes.
Thanks for coming out Darcy Hordichuk. Only you could try to run a player late, break your skate by stupidly throwing yourself into the boards, and then whine like a teenager to the referee for your own stupidity.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Eric Belanger
★★ - Dan Boyle
★ - Devan Dubnyk