Just three short weeks ago the Oilers kicked off their NHL season in Vancouver and already one-quarter of the season has been completed. It seems a little crazy that 12 games constitutes a quarter of the season but it's not entirely unpleasant either. I know I'm thinking more and more that the NHL season is far too long at 82 games and while 48 might be a touch on the short side there must be a happy medium to be found between the two. Perhaps around 60 games. The odds of that happening of course are probably somewhere in the 0% range but that doesn't mean it's not still a good idea, kind of like using hockey players on your fourth line.
At the quarter point of the season the Oilers find themselves in 9th place in the Western Conference with a 5-4-3 record. The results are decent enough but with only 2 regulation wins and a recent five game losing streak, the start to the season hasn't been what the Oilers and their fans had hoped for. The offence has struggled mightly and the defence has holes big enough that Theo Peckham can easily fit through them. But where the Oilers have been especially strong is between the pipes. Save for one period against San Jose, the Oilers really couldn't have asked more for more from Devan Dubnyk, and to a much lesser extent Nikolai Khabibulin.
Dubnyk has started 11 of the Oilers 12 games so far this season posting a 0.928 save percentage and a 2.45 goals against average. He was lit up in the Oilers home opener against the Sharks but he was hardly the only player who looked off that night and has been solid in all of his other starts. Realistically if Dubnyk doesn't play as well as he has early in this season the Oilers could be four points worse in the standings right now, if not more. If that's the case we'd already be looking ahead to the draft in June.
The table below presents Dubnyk's save percentage over the last three seasons at even strength, on the penalty kill, and overall as well as where that percentage ranked among qualifying goaltenders - 25 games in a regular season, four right now in this season.
|Even Strength||Short Handed||Total|
|SV %||NHL Rank||SV %||NHL Rank||SV %||NHL Rank|
Overall the numbers are solid. Not flashy but solid. The lack of a training camp has to be especially tough on goalies as they were the ones least likely to find work elsewhere during the lockout so most were basically dropped into the season not having seen a shot in eight months. Dubnyk has handled that situation quite well in my opinion and the results reflect that. The wins haven't been there for the Oilers but that can hardly be blamed on the man between the pipes.
At first glance the penalty kill number for this season may seem out of whack but the Oilers have twice this season - on the road in Calgary and Colorado - given up goals within seconds of their opponents power play coming to an end. With the sample sizes we're looking at those two goals showing up in the even strength column tend to skew the numbers a little bit; if those two goals had been scored seconds earlier Dubnyk's penalty kill save percentage would drop by more than 20 points. The penalty kill save percentage will absolutely regress but I it seems doubtful that we'll see a repeat of last season's numbers when all is said and done and that should help Dubnyk best his overall save percentage from last season and hopefully push past the 0.920 barrier for the first time in his career.
Of course Dubnyk hasn't been the Oilers only netminder this season. Yann Danis saw 40 minutes in relief of Dubnyk during the previously mentioned game against San Jose, he didn't allow a goal, and Khabibulin finally saw some game action on Saturday versus Detroit and looked very good stopping 28 of 30 shots that came his way. Strong performances in both caes but as nice as those performances were the Oilers still don't have a backup capable of being depended on to consistently give them a performance they can win with and so they will have to continue to ride Dubnyk. So far he seems to be up to the challenge.