SUN Hockey Pool

Dubnyk works on keeping sharp for Oilers

Edmonton Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) catches the puck after a Nashville Predators shot during...

Edmonton Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) catches the puck after a Nashville Predators shot during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tennessee November 22, 2011. (REUTERS/M. J. Masotti Jr.)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS - It’s a fast and shocking transition, from opening-night starter to forgotten backup, but Devan Dubnyk is trying to make the best of it.

The 25-year-old third-year NHLer was supposed to be splitting the goaltending duties 50-50, at worst, this season. At least that’s how it looked after he turned a fantastic training camp into the season-opening nod against Pittsburgh, a 33-save 2-1 shootout victory.

But 21 games into the schedule he has just seven starts and has yet to play two games in a row.

“It’s tough,” said Dubnyk, who hasn’t started at Rexall Place since the third game of the season. “You never know what to expect coming in. Obviously, it was great to get that first start, but Khabby’s been playing great.”

Dubnyk, under circumstances that have been challenging at times, has played well, too. He’s also been hung out to dry on a few of his rare appearances, either shaking off rust to play the second of back-to-back games on the road or being left to fend for himself while the rest of the team tried to sort out its own problems. A 3-4 record says as much about his situation as it does about him.

“I’m going to continue to push and would love to get the net more, and get some wins for the guys,” said Dubnyk, who has a .907 save percentage and 2.74 GAA. “It’s going to be up to me.”

He made a strong pitch for more work Tuesday in Nashville when he turned in 52 minutes of shutout hockey, fending off the Predators’ comeback attempt almost singlehandedly when they fired 18 shots at him in the second period

“(Dubnyk) had a strong game and he needed that. So did we,” said head coach Tom Renney, who wasn’t sure how much dust Dubnyk would have to shake off in just his second appearance in 12 days.

“I wondered about that. I was a little concerned with that, to be honest with you,” said Renney. “But when he keeps it simple and stays square to the shooter, he’s very economical and really good.”

It remains a delicate balance between riding a hot hand in Khabibulin, as Edmonton makes its first real push for the playoffs in five years, and keeping Dubnyk active. This is still about developing players for the future and Dubnyk is a crucial piece of tomorrow’s puzzle

“That’s the big thing with Dubie, we have to be careful that we don’t wait too long between starts,” said Renney, who knows it serves everyone’s best interests to keep him active. “It keeps Khabby fresh and Dubie good to go.”

In the meantime, Dubnyk, who came one red-hot Russian away from being a starter, continues to adopt the mental and physical routines of a backup until further notice.

“You have to find a mix of being relaxed and being intense at the same time,” he said. “It’s easy when you’ve been out for a long time to be really intense. But that’s when your chest is facing the ice and you’re going down early. I’m kind of just finding that mix of being laid back but also being on top of things.”

A shutout in Nashville would have been nice, but an Oilers penalty and a 1-in-100 deflection by Jordin Tootoo in the third period cut the legs out from that story line.

“I’ve had a few snapped (late),” he said. “It crosses your mind, especially now when I’m not getting so many games. Tubes (Colten Teubert) said he was sorry for taking the penalty. I said ‘As long as they get five or less (the Oilers had six), I’m happy.’

“That’s the way it is right now, I just want to get in there and get in the win column, give the boys a good effort.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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