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2010-2011 Season Preview: Goaltenders

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Nikolai Khabibulin has started slow but it looking to rebound for the 2010-2011 season.

If the past few weeks of training camp have taught us anything about Edmonton’s future in goal, it’s that the separation in ability between Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk, and Jeff Deslauriers is shorter than it has ever been before.

But that also leaves us with a cloudy view on where things will shake out.

In what has become the most heavily scrutinized position on the Oilers roster, the Edmonton Oilers go into the 2010-2011 season with a much different look than they did last year. Carrying three goaltenders is never an ideal situation, but it’s the hand the Oilers organization has been dealt to survive the challenges that some off-season problems had created.

  10-11 Preview: Forwards
  10-11 Preview: Defencemen

Nikolai Khabibulin’s legal issues have put the Oilers in an awkward position as we begin the regular season. He could be forced to deal with the situation at any moment, due to the fact that he’s chosen to appeal the court’s decision. As such, the Oilers’ number one goaltender could be required to leave at any time during the season.

Fortunately for the team, they have a backup plan.

Unfortunately, it stresses an unfair toll on the two goaltenders that battled hard and performed well through training camp.

Both Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers played well and earned their keep on the Oilers roster but will now have to share the duties with Khabibulin in the interim. Either a difficult decision is made from Oilers management, or the number one’s legal issues get resolved in a hurry.

Either way, it’s a sticky situation.


At the present time, the day of the Oilers’ season-opener against the division rival Calgary Flames, Nikolai Khabibulin is the team’s number one goaltender. A number of factors including his age, salary, history and experience all work in his favour as he’s essentially guaranteed the role until he plays himself out of it (or has to leave Edmonton). Both are possible scenarios.

If the number one goaltender to start the season was based purely on training camp performance, either Dubnyk or Deslauriers would likely get the call. Both performed admirably in the exhibition season and put up statistics that largely beat Khabibulin’s early numbers.

While pre-season and training camp performances aren't always the quintessential method of player evaluation, it does raise some concerns regarding the number one man between the pipes. Is he completely focused heading into the season? Is his conditioning up the level that it should be? Is his back completely healed and ready to go for NHL action?

Both Khabibulin and head coach Tom Renney insist he’s prepared, but only time will truly tell the tale of Khabibulin’s physical and mental state of mind as we begin the new season.

Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers will be fighting hard with each other to earn more playing time this season.
On the other side of the crease, you have Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers chomping at the bit. How does the coaching staff go about handling these two?

Deslauriers has unfortunately already been through a three-goaltender carousel when Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson started the season ahead of him on the depth chart. Eventually his play warranted his keep and he survived the purge when the decision was finally made (to trade Garon).

Dubnyk hasn’t been through that, but that doesn’t make the situation any easier. At the moment, one will be sitting in the pressbox on opening night as they miss valuable game action and further development time.


Something both Dubnyk and Deslauriers haven’t faced yet in their young careers is the ability to handle the pressure and perform when they face significant adversity. For them as individuals, making the most of their early opportunities could be the springboard for a successful season in the NHL. Likewise, poor early performances would likely result in less playing time; and even worse, a possible demotion to the American Hockey League.

It’s become a psychological test for these two young men. We’re already fully aware of each of the goaltenders’ capabilities between the pipes, but now they’re tested on mental fortitude and stamina as well. The goaltender that emerges on top may not only be the most physically skilled; he may also be the strongest mentally, which has proven in the past to be a dominating factor for goaltenders.

In a similar situation in 2008-2009, Dwayne Roloson won the job in due to an incredible work ethic and mental focus that simply couldn’t be matched.

In 2010-2011, the ultimate winner will be …

Author: Ryan Dittrick |
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