After a relatively quiet start to the pre-season for the Edmonton Oilers, things are about to heat up in a hurry. Starting Sunday, in a neutral site game in Saskatoon against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers will play five exhibition games in seven nights.
Most of the talk around the hockey club on the airwaves, in the print and in the Oilers blogosphere surrounds whether or not first-round picks Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse make the team, and if or when the Oilers will sign 18-year-old Vladamir Tkachev to a contract.
However, the storyline that will have the greatest impact on the success of the Oilers this season is goaltending.
The late, great Hall-of-Famer Pat Burns once said, “goaltending is 90% of hockey, unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100%”.
For the first half of last season the Oilers didn’t have it.
Devan Dubnyk appeared to be closing in on becoming a number one a year ago. He had three solid seasons with a decent save percentage, but the roof caved in on him last fall and the Oilers never overcame a brutal start.
During the course of the 2013-14 campaign Oilers GM Craig MacTavish acquired Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth. Both showed flashes of brilliance in between the Oilers pipes down the stretch, but neither at this time can be called a “true number one” NHL goaltender.
That being said, Scrivens and Fasth can’t ask for a better opportunity than the one here in Edmonton, which is a chance to become a number one goaltender.
Last fall the Oilers had Dubnyk and his friend, career backup Jason LaBarbera, as their goaltending tandem. Dubnyk and LaBarbera are two of the nicest people you could ever meet in hockey. But LaBarbera wasn’t exactly pushing Dubnyk to be “the guy”.
Scrivens and Fasth are here to compete which should bode well for the Oilers. Both want to be the guy. Competition should be a good thing for two players that have had to prove it every step of the way.
The undrafted Scrivens played four seasons for a mid-major hockey program at Cornell and started his pro career in the ECHL.
After a stint in Toronto, splitting time with James Reimer, Scrivens was moved to Los Angeles during the 2013 off-season to backup Jonathan Quick.
When Quick went down Scrivens stepped up, posting a 7-5-4 record with a 1.97 GAA and a stellar .931 save percentage. But Martin Jones was being groomed to be the Kings goaltender of the future which made Scrivens available, especially with Quick firmly entrenched as the Kings goaltender of right now and for seemingly for years to come.
Like Scrivens, Fasth was not drafted. He spent years playing in Sweden before finally coming to North America at the age of 30 signing with the Anaheim Ducks for the start of the 2012-13 season. When then Ducks number one netminder Jonas Hiller was out with injury and illness, Fasth came to the forefront in NHL circles posting a stellar 15-6-2 record with a 2.18 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
He appeared poised to compete for the starting job in in Anaheim for the 2013-14 season, but lower body injuries derailed him. That combined with the emergence of Frederik Anderson and having one of the top prospects in hockey, John Gibson, made Fasth expendable.
Both Scrivens and Fasth are confident guys who believe in their abilities, but you get the sense when talking to them that want to prove some people wrong… which is perfect for the Oilers.
Scrivens finished with a .916 save percentage in 21 appearances as an Oiler, while Fasth was at .914 in a shorter sample size of seven games.
If the two have a combined save percentage below .915 the Oilers likely won’t be in the mix for the playoffs.
Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth will play a critical role in the Oilers success this season, and the battle for number one needs to be a race to the top, not a turtle derby.
Both guys are competitors who have had to fight their way to the NHL, should be fun to watch.
Bob Stauffer is Radio Analyst of the Oilers Broadcasts on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” Monday thru Friday Noon to 2:00PM on 630 CHED. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_stauffer.