If you forced me to nail down the single most surprising story from this young 2011-12 season, it would be the early play of Edmonton Oilers' goalies Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin. During the summer, it's quite possible that I would have named them the worst duo in the entire league, yet so far they’re the NHL’s best.
Khabibulin's proudest moments have indeed been great, but he’s dealt with some serious valleys both on and off the ice. The most reasonable assumption was that “The Bulin Wall” had been torn down by age, legal issues and a suspect supporting cast.
Dubnyk has the size that a casual fan would want from a goalie – you know, the guys who imagine that a sumo wrestler would be impossible to score on – but expecting him to actually do something with that huge frame has been the holdup. It seems like only “homer” fans would have considered either goalie during normal-sized drafts.
Yet in a small sample of games, both have been outstanding. The Oilers have only allowed 1.4 goals per contest, the best mark in the NHL. (Shockingly, their 90.7 penalty kill rate is only fourth best in the NHL, which should reinforce the idea that many of these numbers aren't quite sustainable.) Khabibulin’s been the better of the two, but Dubnyk has been outstanding aside from allowing 4 goals against the Vancouver Canucks.
So are their starts a sign that this season will be a shockingly great one in the Oilers' nets?
I’d bet against it – and maybe the best move is to use those early numbers to coax a big trade involving a slow starter from an antsy fantasy owner. Could Khabibuin + solid depth player net you Roberto Luongo + less solid depth player? That sounds ludicrous to a logical thinker, but the collective opinion of Bobby Lou is so toxic right now that you might be able to swing such a deal.
Smart owners have the courage to mix bold moves (trading a hot starter) with a variety of safe bets (Going with one of the Sedins in the first round instead of getting “cute” with a flavor of the month pick). Trading Khabibulin or Dubnyk could be a brave boon, even if there would be something to say about sticking with Dubnyk through thick and thin.
A JUST CAM WARD
In an ideal world (or perhaps more appropriately, a fantasy world), Cam Ward would play behind an above average defense. If that happened, we could really get an idea of where he ranks among the NHL’s elites.
Since he plays behind a leaky Carolina Hurricanes defense, Ward’s full season numbers will probably always be stuck in the second tier.
With that in mind, nights like last night are really special. He stopped all 30 shots he saw against the Chicago Blackhawks, which makes that shutout even better. Hopefully you didn’t assume Friday's game was going to be one of those tough nights for Ward, then.
NO MORE GABBY AND RICHARDS?
Marian Gaborik was - and remains - one of the biggest mysteries of the fantasy hockey season because of the ceiling (playing alongside Brad Richards) and the floor (his obvious injury problems). Right now things are a bit low, as John Tortorella broke up the two talented forwards.
Torts is notorious for tweaking his lines, though, so Gabby and Richards could be reunited again in no time.
Hopefully you didn’t draft Gaborik very high, if you were brave enough to do it.
O’REILLY THE COYOTE
The Phoenix Coyotes sent a fourth round pick to Nashville for center Cal O’Reilly, who was the Predators’ odd man out. It seems pretty obvious that O’Reilly was added in light of the team’s difficulties in re-signing Kyle Turris. He might produce a bit more offense in Phoenix than in Nashville, but probably not enough to make a substantial difference for your team.
Again, the word is that Drew Doughty is supposed to play tonight, but we’ll see … Phil Kessel left Friday’s practice, but the Maple Leafs insist that he should be fine for Saturday … Mike Green is still struggling with an ankle injury and is questionable for Oct. 29’s game against the Vancouver Canucks …Want to see Evgeni Nabokov play against his former team tonight? Sorry, but it’s likely that he won’t be healthy enough to face the San Jose Sharks because of injury problems … Clayton Stoner (finger) and Sergei Kostitsyn (leg) are day-to-day with their ailments. (Click her for the full injury list.)