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PRINCIPE: Net Gains in Goal

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers

Imagine you're at your place of employment and you've been there for a few years. Well, it's the start of a new year and business isn't going so well. You're not sure why but your productivity is down. It's the opposite of previous years where you have been getting better and better at your job. You can't explain it but you know it's happening and despite your best efforts nothing seems to be working the way you want. As a result, your boss brings in somebody else to help out. Your boss wants to see if the new employee can do the same thing as you and whether he can do it as well or maybe better. Imagine what that would feel like.

Devan Dubnyk doesn't have to imagine that because he's been living it with the Edmonton Oilers. A goaltender whose numbers (wins and save %) have been going up in full seasons but whose other numbers (goals against average) have been going down. That's what had been happening to Dubnyk and his career. Until this season when things weren't going well for him and the team. At a loss for words were many on explaining exactly what was going on and put Dubnyk on that list. It's hard to explain the unexplainable when you're moving up in the goalie world and then suddenly you're going the wrong way and can't stop the negative momentum. Dubnyk never ever hid from his start. There to explain, after each painstaking loss, what he saw, how he felt and why things hadn't gone right for him and the team.

In steps Craig MacTavish, whose employment description as the GM is to make a move if he thinks it will help his hockey club. It's what he did on Friday, November 8th when Ladislav Smid was traded to Calgary. That was the GM's second biggest moment of the evening because MacTavish followed that up with the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov. A once-productive goalie who had fallen on hard times and was looking for the chance to play again. Edmonton decided they would give him that chance. Potentially great news depending on how the former Flyer, Duck and Coyote ends up playing. However, you couldn't blame Dubnyk for feeling a little uncertain about what the next step was for him.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, moaning, complaining or being unsettled by it, Dubnyk reverted back to what he did best: playing hockey and stopping pucks. It's what he's always done. Taking on all challengers along the way on his path to being Edmonton's #1 netminder. Remember this isn't the first time Dubnyk has had to fight for his ice time. There was having to beat out Jeff Deslauriers for what was then the backup job. Then he outlasted and outplayed a Stanley Cup winner in Nikolai Khabibulin. All along the way never looking distraught or defeated by the challenge ahead. He has taken the same approach to the arrival of Bryzgalov.

He's been friendly, helpful and much more than lukewarm to the netminder who now sits beside him in the Oilers dressing room. Whether it's a coincidence or not, Dubnyk has reverted to past success since Bryzgalov's arrival. Even Dubnyk, who has answered the question many times, isn't sure what spurred on his play but he said he started feeling better in Philadelphia. Since then, his results have been gradually getting better and he recorded his first shutout of the season on Tuesday vs. Columbus. It was only 14 saves but the shortage of shots came after consecutive games where he totaled 90 saves on 96 shots.

Competition for your livelihood can be a great motivator. Whether it was that or whether Dubnyk would have found his game irrelevant of what else was going on may never be known. It also doesn't matter because Craig MacTavish did his job and Devan Dubnyk is doing his in net for the Edmonton Oilers.

Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.

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