Ty Conklin could have made the decision a lot easier. Just fight the puck, bobble away two points and let his goals-against average float away like a helium balloon. He does that, and Edmonton's goaltending situation is a whole lot clearer this morning.
Instead, Conklin, who once broke his hand in a line brawl with Atlanta, proved he's a fighter all over again. In his first game in seven weeks, with the weight of his future on his shoulders, he turned in a gritty, rock-solid effort in New Jersey on Tuesday -- and because of it Edmonton's goaltending dilemma just got a whole lot cloudier.
"I had a lot of confidence in him as the game wore on," said Oilers' coach Craig MacTavish, saluting Conklin's 1-1 overtime duel with Martin Brodeur and the Devils, who would eventually win in a shootout. "He had about seven shots in the first period to feel his way back into it and was really sharp at the end, kept us in the game when they had the four on three. He handled the puck really well, too."
Goaltending shouldn't be an issue when a team only scores six goals on a three-game road trip and still comes home with four of a possible six points, but it is when they do it with three different keepers. The Oilers only need, and only want, two goalies. And right now they have no idea who should stay and who should go, let alone who's No. 1 and who's No. 2.
"All three guys are coming off of really good games," said MacTavish.
"Ty was very good against New Jersey, Jussi Markkanen played very well on the Island (two goals against in a shootout loss) and Mike Morrison played great against Philly (3-2 win). I expect to see all three of them in in a short time, probably in the next five games," said the coach. "We'll try and keep them all in the loop until we have more information, and that's probably not going to be for quite a while."
In a two-goalie system, in which there isn't a clear No.1, coaches can ride the hot hand, play a guy until he loses. MacTavish can't, because the next few weeks are all about settling this thing once and for all. Can Morrison be this good for the long haul? Can Conklin rediscover the game that once had him on the USA Olympic radar?
"l (think) all three guys are capable goaltenders, I'm very comfortable with any one of them," said MacTavish. "We just have to take some time to sort through it. It's going to be a case of playing all three until somebody ... until there are performance issues."
But he says it won't be a cut and dried three-man rotation.
"I don't anticipate any mathematical formula to it, it's just going to be a lot of feel with a lot of different factors going into it."
And along the way, if one of them gets hurt, which is entirely possible in today's goalie-crashing NHL, then the hassle turns into a blessing.
"Things happen fast," said MacTavish. "You get an injury, or two. There's a lot teams right now that are carrying three goaltenders, Colorado, Buffalo, there's about four or five of them."
It's not ideal, but goalies are a treasured commodity in the NHL and the Oilers don't want to make a mistake. After all, Buffalo's Martin Biron didn't look that hot in his first few games this season, too.
"And boom, all of a sudden he wins 11 straight."