Oilers' race for backup goalie job up in the air with Khabibulin back

GYI0060076660-deslauriers-petersen-getty.jpgWith the reemergence of Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton, much in part thanks to him filing an appeal on his drunk driving conviction, the future of Jeff Deslauriers or Devan Dubnyk hangs in the balance. The role to be the backup goalie to Khabibulin is up for grabs and while both Deslauriers and Dubnyk did what they could last season while Khabibulin was out with a back injury, neither showed that they were ready to be “the man” as the interim starter.

Now it’s between those two again in the preseason and neither player has shown that they’ve got the edge on the job. Not even the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson could get Oilers coach Tom Renney to tip his hand.

Do the Oilers want a goalie who can be a solid backup to Khabibulin, who might only play 55 games? Or do they want a player who can be a No. 1, in time, because by the time the team gets really good as their young players develop, Khabibulin probably won’t be here?

“I think if you’ve got both (platforms) it’s best, but you do need a goalie who’s going to grow into the No. 1 role. Khabibulin won’t play forever,” said Renney. “I do believe we have some other goalie prospects (Olivier Roy) in the system. That said, whoever emerges, should be capable of taking the reins and running with it.”

Renney said he hasn’t tried to form an opinion, coming into camp, on which guy he likes best. But when you play as little as Deslauriers and Dubnyk are going to play in just six exhibition games this fall, the coach has to have some idea whom he likes best, doesn’t he?

“I’m trying not to do that. Look at the year we had last season. Is it fair to evaluate anybody under those circumstances? Especially a goalie. I think a lot of people were exposed.

“I’m trying to operate with a blank page,” said Renney.

Whoever loses the job will likely get sent to Oklahoma City in the AHL but they’ll have to go through waivers first. Matheson believes that Dubnyk is the favorite to win the job only because Deslauriers is more marketable to other teams to be traded. Sending him through waivers could lead to the Oilers just losing him without compensation.

What’s making one of these two all the more expendable is Martin Gerber’s presence in the system. With Gerber returning to the NHL/AHL this year, keeping both Dubnyk and Deslauriers makes no sense. After all, you don’t want to spend an extra roster spot at the NHL level for a third goalie and having two NHL-experienced goalies in the AHL crushes the team’s development of younger players.

Gerber makes for an instantly solid call-up from the AHL if Khabibulin gets re-injured or if his appeal is heard mid-season sending him to jail for a month. Gerber is more experienced and provides a bit more consistency than the younger pair fighting for a job now. That’s a lot of presumption there on my part, but like with the Oilers, they too know they’ve got to be ready for anything this season.

(Photo: Christian Petersen – Getty Images)

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    Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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    The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

    For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

    The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

    New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

    This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

    The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

    Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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    There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

    On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

    The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

    In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

    The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

    Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

    The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

    Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

    Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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    Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

    It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

    Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

    Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

    You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

    Just about every relevant team in the East playoff races won tonight

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    After Eastern Conference teams deserved a “C” on Monday, they generally passed Tuesday’s tests with flying colors. Sometimes they carved out three-point games when relevant teams faced off, too.

    It’s almost bewildering trying to figure out where to start … so how about the top of the East?

    Metro’s rich get richer

    The Minnesota Wild deserve credit for fighting back from a considerable deficit, including overcoming an Alex Ovechkin hat trick (all on the power play). Ultimately, T.J. Oshie‘s overtime-winner gave Washington the 5-4 (OT) win.

    Elsewhere in the Metro’s top ranks, Sergei Bobrovsky grabbed his 41st win of the season (3-1 win against the Sabres) to put Columbus three points behind the Capitals and two ahead of the idle Penguins.

    Metro top three (all with 75 games played)

    1. Capitals – 108 points
    2. Blue Jackets – 105 points
    3. Penguins – 103 points

    Canadiens gain ground

    The Montreal Canadiens handled the Dallas Stars 4-1 in The Epic Battle of the Benns. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers beat the second-place Senators 3-2 via a shootout

    Both the Maple Leafs and Bruins won their games, leaving Toronto one point ahead of Boston for third in the Atlantic.

    Atlantic top five

    1. Canadiens – 95 points in 76 games played
    2. Senators – 91 points in 75 GP
    3. Maple Leafs – 87 points in 75 GP

    Bruins – 86 points in 76 GP
    Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP

    Finally, let’s look at the final spot in the East

    OK, so there’s some overlap here. Why don’t we check on the most wild-card-relevant teams?

    Third Atlantic spot: Leafs – 87 points in 75 GP

    Final spot: Bruins – 86 points in 76 GP

    Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
    Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
    Hurricanes – 82 points in 75 GP
    Flyers – 80 points in 76 GP
    Panthers – 77 points in 76 GP

    Again, the Bruins won, as did the Flyers. The Lightning were idle. The Panthers fell to the Maple Leafs. Buffalo lost while Detroit and New Jersey are out of the running.

    You know who deserves special mention outside of the top eight? The Carolina Hurricanes deserve such a distinction, as they are enjoying one of their hottest runs in franchise history after beating Detroit 4-1.

    The overall message: just about any truly relevant team at least grabbed a standings point, with most winning games outright on Tuesday.

    It doesn’t exactly thin the herd, but it keeps the door open for a fun race to the finish.