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March 22, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (35) back of his helmet and jersey during the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Win and You're In? We've Seen This Before

Having a rare Monday morning off from work, I proceeded to laze about: grab a coffee, turn on the news and fire up twitter to see if people had finally stopped talking about the Oscars; sadly they hadn’t. However something else happened to catch my eye:

Which caused me to raise an eyebrow, and I probably would have raised both had I been fully awake at the time. Has Devan Dubnyk had a little bit a rough go in the past couple of games? Yes. Has Khabibulin played above expectations? Absolutely, and therein lies the rub: we’re into our fourth year of watching Khabibulin play, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from him, and it’s not pretty. If you honestly believe Khabibulin can sustain a .942 save percentage and 1.89 GAA, I’ve got some nice oceanfront property in Red Deer you might be interested in.

The worrisome part is that even with a better save percentage and a GAA that’s almost one full goal per game lower than Dubnyk’s, the end result has been the exact same for the Oilers: .500 hockey. At this point you have to look at likely scenarios. First of all, the Oilers aren’t likely to remain snake-bitten in terms of 5 vs 5 goalscoring, it’s not like years past when they couldn’t sustain any offensive zone pressure, or could barely muster up 14-15 shots a game on a regular basis. The term “regression to the mean” has become one of infamy among anyone who follows the Oilogosphere, but regression isn’t necessarily negative, it just points that unsustainable trends (like Jordan Eberle’s shooting percentage from last year, or the Oilers absolutely dreadful 5 vs 5 shooting percentage this year) aren’t likely to continue long-term.

At some point, the Oilers should be getting some more run support for their goalies to work with, which leads to a discussion on who do you start? Rewind to last year, where Dubnyk struggled early on, and Khabibulin posted some incredible numbers early on in the year, which led with him getting handed the bulk of the work for the regular season. What happened in the second half of last year? Well, an old goaltender posting up unsustainable numbers blew up, and the team plummeted back down the standings to finish 29th. We all know what’s eventually going to happen if 35 keeps getting the nod, in fact I’d say it’s more inevitable that the eventual heat death of the universe.

So that leaves us with Dubnyk, who we’re still getting a read on in terms of if he can be a reliable starter in the league. Outside of some rough patches this year (1st periods against San Jose, Colorado) he’s been solid, but not in the “posting ridiculous” numbers kind of way. I think it’s a safer bet to assume that he can bounce back, and bring a few more wins in that Khabibulin would. (Though if this team can’t start putting up another couple of goals per game on a consistent basis, it’s not going to matter who we start in net.

Of course, it might be premature to suggest the Oilers are looking at handing the the starter reins to Khabibulin, just because they’re starting him against Chicago, I’ve seen people suggest that the Oilers might be doing one of two things, or possibly both. Either, figuring this game to be an unlikely win for the Oilers, they’re giving Dubnyk the night off, or they’re trying to showcase Nik for a trade. I think both of these are rather foolish, and here’s my reasoning on why. First of all, I know Chicago is currently the hottest, and arguably best team in the league right now, but you can’t go into any game expecting to lose, especially on a crucial nine-game road trip. Chicago is good, but they’ve still only got Ray Emery and Corey Crawford for goalies, and you’re not telling me that either of these goalies are bonafide elite talent in net. Much like I doubt Khabibulin can keep his numbers up, please tell me if you think Crawford keeps a GAA that’s nearly a full goal off his career average, and save percentage .030 above his career. Eventually that’s going to come down, why can’t the Oilers be the first to start chipping that down. You can almost hear the mainsteam media salivate at the narratives they could generate if the Oilers handed the Blackhawks their first regulation loss tonight.

Second of all, Nik Khabibulin has been around a really long time. I remember seeing him play at Rexall when it was still just known as the Coliseum, he was playing for the Jets. I was 12. What I’m saying is, other teams know exactly what they’re going to get for the guy. It’s not like they’re looking at Oiler games and going “Who is this Khab- Kahabibi… enigmatic Russian goalie the Oilers are playing?”

So, you know, show some confidence in the young goalie you’ve signed to a new contract, show him you believe that he can win you any game versus any team you play against, because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see Dubnyk as the starting goaltender, than someone starring in local TV commercials.

Though those commercials beat the hell of out anything Telus or BP’s has put out in the past couple of years.

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Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Devan Dubnyk Nikolai Khabibulin Unsustainable

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