Northwest: Dubnyk settling into starter’s role with Oilers

By Blake Benzel

Photo: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk has played well in the absence of injured starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibhulin (courtesy of

John Cordes/Icon SMI)

Over the past few seasons, the Oilers’ offense has come a long way.

They’ve gone from Dustin Penner being their leading goal scorer (Penner led the team with 23 goals in the 2007-08 season) and having just two players top the 50-point mark (Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff, again in the 2007-08 season) to having their dynamic trio of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, all of whom are above 50 points this season and could all potentially have 20-plus goals, depending on how Nugent-Hopkins ends the season.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for their goaltending.

The Oilers haven’t had a goaltender with a goals-against average below 2.50 since Dwayne Roloson had a 2.42 goals-against average after being traded to the Oilers from the Minnesota Wild in the 2005-06 season, and that was in just 19 games with the team. You have to look back to the 2002-03 season to find a goalie that stepped into the crease and took charge, playing the majority of the games and playing at an elite level, when Tommy Salo played in 69 games and had a 2.22 goals-against average.

Needless to say, goaltending has been an area of weakness for the team, but that could all be changing with the emergence of Devan Dubnyk this season.

Dubnyk has seemed to “Wally Pipp” the starting goaltending position from Nikolai Khabilbulin this season, taking the reigns as the starter when Khabibulin went down with an injury and running with it, not letting the starting spot go. With the way that Dubnyk is playing, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be letting it go anytime soon.

Since Feb. 21, when Khabibulin went down with a groin injury, Dubnyk has played 16 games, going 10-5-1 over that time. He hasn’t given up more than three goals in any game, has given up less than two goals six times, and has two shutouts – certainly the statistics of an elite, starting goaltender.

But, with some solid, young goaltenders potentially available this off season, is Dubnyk the answer for the Oilers?

You can point to players like Josh Harding, Jonathan Bernier and Cory Schneider as potential candidates that the Oilers might choose to pursue in the coming off-season, but each has their potential downside. Harding has struggled with injuries over his last few seasons, Bernier doesn’t have the body of work that can point to him as being ready to step into a starting role, and the price tag that anyone is going to have to pay to get Schneider from the Canucks, let alone a division rival, is going to be astronomical.

So, the answer could very well be yes for Dubnyk – he could be the guy that the Oilers tag to lead the team in net next season, and he’s starting to feel the love as well.

I feel like I am a number one right now and it’s my job to finish the season, to continue this,” Dubnyk told The Province in a recent interview. “The most exciting thing about being an Oiler is playing. That’s the only way I’m going to get better … to be on the ice every other night and see different teams over and over again and learn how to do it. … I feel good about myself right now.”

With the way he’s playing and the way the team is riding him, it’s pretty easy to see why. And it’s pretty easy to see that the team may view Dubnyk as part of their solution, which is good news for a franchise that has been sub-par defensively for the better part of a decade.

Northwest Division Notes

The Minnesota Wild are enjoying the role of spoiler. The Wild have won three straight games, all against teams currently contending for a playoff spot. … Sami Salo is poised to play the most games he’s played in a season since before the lockout. If Salo plays in the final three games of the season for the Canucks, he will have played in 69 games this season, the most that the injury-plagued defenseman has played since the 2003-04 season. … The Calgary Flames playoff chances are officially over. With their 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Apr. 1, the Flames were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. It will mark the third straight season that Calgary will miss the post season.