TAMPA - Devan Dubnyk is enjoying playing the game without worrying about his next start.
The Edmonton Oilers goaltender is currently being test driven by the club, in an effort to determine whether he’s capable of carrying the load in the near future.
Judging by his current form, the prognosis looks good.
And while he’s not expected to get the call Thursday night in Tampa, making way for Nikolai Khabibulin to face his former club, Dubnyk will be doing the majority of the heavy lifting the rest of the way for the Oilers.
“I feel great, I feel like I’m in a good spot as far as finding the puck,” said Dubnyk after a 41-save performance against the Nashville Predators Tuesday. “I’m holding my feet and reacting to the play. When you’re able to stay on your feet longer, it’s always going to help you, because you’re able to find lanes to help see the puck on a lot of plays.”
Dubnyk was one of the main reasons the Oilers were able to fend off the Predators Tuesday. Nashville fired 19 shots in the third period alone, looking to climb back into a contest they had let get away with suspect goaltending at their own end.
“Devan was outstanding, he showed a battle level that we needed to see,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “In the third period, we turned the puck over a lot, and he was there and square and as the game went on he needed to become more competitive for us.
“It was very big for us the way he played, there’s no question about that and it’s good for him.”
With nine games left in the season, the jury is still out as to whether Dubnyk is capable of taking on an every-day role for an entire year.
In reality, the Oilers probably won’t be able to determine that for certain until they hand the keys over to the upstart goaltender next year.
For now, Dubnyk has to show enough so the club puts faith in him going forward.
“I feel like I can be a starter, especially with the way I feel right now,” Dubnyk said. “It’s going to be good to finish the season and continue to feel like that.
“For me, the most exciting thing about playing here in this last while is just getting the opportunity to play. That’s the only way I can get better personally, is to be on the ice and see different teams over and over again and learn how to do it. Now is a good time for that, so I feel good about myself right now and I want to keep going.”
Selected in the first round by the Oilers — 14th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft — Dubnyk has always been pencilled in as the club’s goaltender of the future. The team has spent a lot of time developing the Regina native, allowing him to work his way up through the system.
Dubnyk now looks poised to earn the starting job outright next season as the team continues to grow.
The Oilers can see it.
“You do, and in fairness to Khabby and our circumstance, that’s what you want and that’s what you need,” Renney said. “For our team to grow you need that type goaltending from somebody and certainly Devan provided that (Tuesday).”
Granted, it hasn’t all been smooth for Dubnyk this season and Tuesday’s contest was an example of that. Dubnyk let in a bad goal in the third period as David Legwand bounced a puck in off him from behind the net.
Yet Dubnyk was not fazed by the goal and played well after it.
“Those things happen,” he said. “Nobody wants to get scored on from behind the net. But I was feeling good and you can’t let something like that change the way you feel. There was a lots of time left in the game and there was plenty of motivation to stay in there and keep going.”
Eventually, Dubnyk would like to earn the faith of the coaching staff to the point where he’ll be able to continue playing coming off tough nights.
That will be the true indication his time has arrived.
“As a starting goaltender, that’s something that you earn,” he said. “You’re not going to kick out 40 every night for the entire season. You’re going to have nights that don’t go your way, but when you’ve earned it and they know you’re going to come back the next night and get back to the way you’re playing. That’s the important thing, you don’t always want to feel like you have to win the game to keep going.”