How Devan Dubnyk Got His Groove Back

The play of Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been superb over his last four starts despite only picking up two wins. After a rocky start that called for many across Oil Country to run him out of town and trade for a legitimate number one netminder, Dubnyk has quietly re-built his game to the point where he may have got his groove back between the pipes.

It’s difficult to dwell on the shutout performance in last night’s 7-0 whitewash of the Blue Jackets given Dubnyk only had to make 14 saves.  Then again, the old Dubnyk may have allowed a softy somewhere amongst those 14 shots fired his way, losing the shutout in the process.  Instead he made the saves when he needed to further improve his stats over his last four starts.

Forget the start of the year for Dubnyk; it was awful.  Lately though, he’s been a different netminder for the Oilers, allowing just 6 goals over the last 240 minutes played.  Keep in mind, three of them came in one game against the San Jose Sharks where he still made 34 saves.

His goals against average is a sparkling 1.51 while his save percentage over that period of time is .945%.  Suddenly the Oilers are getting the production from Dubnyk that they were accustomed to seeing last season.

On the year his save percentage is slowly creeping up to that .900 level, currently sitting at .891.  His GAA is still well north of 3.00 but with every game that he allows 2 goals or less, it will continue shrink while silencing the critics at the same time.

Call it a coincidence, but the time that Dubnyk started to turn his game around was also the exact time that the Oilers announced the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov.  Perhaps Dubnyk was feeling the pressure to perform or lose his job.  Or worse yet, be left looking for a new place to play.

Over the last three seasons Dubnyk put up respectable numbers for the Oilers that helped lead to the emergence of his number one goalie status this summer.  But up until that time he was competing for the job with Nikolai Khabibulin who was deemed the number one guy in Edmonton when he wasn’t hurt.  Consistent injuries to Khabibulin allowed Dubnyk to shine between the pipes and eventually led to his stock rising enough with the Oilers management to give him the reins in goal.

Khabibulin leaves, Jason LaBarbera is brought in over the summer and it’s made crystal clear that he is the backup to Dubnyk.  No bones about it, this team now belongs to Devan Dubnyk.  At least until the season started and his struggles began.  The dreaded “soft goal” syndrome returned and continued to haunt the 27-year old product of Regina, Saskatchewan, leading to a loss in confidence that further led to a loss in playing time.

Fortunate for Dubnyk, neither LaBarbera or Richard Bachman could rise to the occasion and steal the number one job.  But Ilyz Bryzgalov could and that may have been the intent behind Craig MacTavish signing him to a one-year deal to help shore up the Oilers goaltending woes for the remainder of this year.  Suddenly a sense of desperation and the fact that his job security may be in jeopardy and Dubnyk starts producing again.

Call it a coincidence based on the timing of bringing Bryzgalov into the mix, or call it premature excitement that Dubnyk has turned the corner.  If he stinks the joint out in his next couple of starts then this is all for not.

But considering that he’s always been pushed by the presence of a netminder who could be classified as a starter in this league (Khabibulin and now Bryzgalov) maybe that is the key to Dubnyk’s success.  Maybe that is how he got his groove back.

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