The 2013 season was where Devan Dubnyk was to establish himself as the starter for the Edmonton Oilers, both now and in the future.
For the most part he has done that, having his best season as a pro and has been the Oilers best player on a number of nights.
The only problem is that the backup to start the year in Nikolai Khabibulin, he who is 40 and thought to be washed up, is playing even better. Not exactly a hard problem to deal with if you’re Ralph Krueger and the Edmonton Oilers.
It does lead to some tough decisions game to game though for the coaching staff, in terms of which goaltender gives them the best chance to earn two points.
With the Oilers embarking on a nine game road trip starting tonight against the best team in hockey in the Chicago Blackhawks, they play 9 games in 16 days including two back to backs, which means both goalies will need to be relied on.
However, when mapping out the schedule over the next two plus weeks which is the guy that gets the tough games. In looking at the numbers, Dubnyk has started 14 of the team’s 17 games and Khabibulin just 4, and coming in part way in one.
Dubnyk has a 2.78GAA and .917s% in shouldering the load and is in the top ten in the league in shots against. Khabibulin in less of a sample size has an impressive 1.89GAA and .942s%. Khabibulin has also started two of the last three games for the team including a shootout win against Phoenix on the weekend.
Big picture, at 40 years old and in the last year of his contract, Khabibulin will not be with the Oilers past this season and Dubnyk most certainly will. There is also the chance that Khabibulin could be traded prior to April as his value has definitely risen over the past few weeks and there are plenty of teams in need of goaltending. It’s about the present for the Oilers however, as this road trip could make or break their season.
It looks as though the team will ride the hot hand at least tonight as it looks as though Khabibulin will get the nod against the Blackhawks. Points every night being as valuable as they are, Krueger and his staff will no doubt go game to game with their decisions and continue to ride the hot streak.
With Dubnyk anointed the number one entering the season, and Khabibulin potentially starting the last three of four, especially against Chicago, is that no longer the case for the younger tender? Or is it just Krueger playing the best goaltender on a given night. Either way the lines around the roles have blurred, which is not necessarily a problem if both are playing well.
Thought to be a question mark coming into the season, ironically the goaltending position has been the steadiest on the team so far. Whichever option the Oilers go with game to game, they’re getting someone who will give them a chance to win, and it’s been a long time since they have been able to say that.