Even in a sport with 82-game seasons (and netminders who, at least at one point not too long ago, carried 70-start workloads), first impressions can make a big difference. Luckily, just about any reasonable team doesn’t melt down based on one or two tough games.
One interesting example that comes to mind is Mike Smith in 2011-12. In his first game as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, it seemed like Dave Tippett’s crew would indeed miss Ilya Bryzgalov, as Smith was shelled in a 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
It’s funny how incorrect first impressions can be - at least in hockey, anyway - as Smith enjoyed a borderline-Vezina season in his Coyotes debut, earning a 38-18-10 record, a sparkling .930 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA with eight shutouts (easily the most of his career) while we all know what happened with Breezy. Maybe Smith deserves the surprisingly caustic derision sent his way from stats bloggers and other critics, but for one year, you could see why Phoenix bought low and then questionably paid big for the large, puck-moving netminder.
This is all a way of pleading with you not to freak out about rocky first games for Ben Scrivens and Devan Dubnyk. As you might remember from my analysis last week, I was enthusiastic about Dubnyk and dubious about Scrivens (too bad it wasn’t the other way around, as dubious and Dubnyk go well together) and one game each doesn’t change that.
But how bad were those games, really? Let’s take a look.
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A TOUGH START FOR DUBNYK
As far as I can see, onlookers didn’t really get too descriptive about Dubnyk’s difficult first night, only referring to it as generally disappointing while talking people off the ledge about overreacting to one loss.
So, I thought I’d take a slightly odd route and look at the five goals he allowed on 29 shots to see if they were “his” fault or what. Keep in mind that I’m by no means a goalie technique guru like, say, this fellow.
1-0 goal 6:21 into the first period, via Nick Holden:
Dubnyk was all over the place on this goal. Maybe he could’ve used more help, but you want your big goalies to be more controlled, I’d say.
2-0 goal 11:27 into the first period, via Jan Hejda:
The shot might have been a “cannon” but the Predators must cringe at a goal coming from so far out. While this is Hejda’s sixth goal of the season, it’s probably not the name you want to see popping up in the box score.
3-0 goal 12:05 into the first period, via Gabriel Landeskog:
I’d imagine you’d like to see better rebound control from DD. Allowing two goals in less than a minute is brutal for such a fragile team, too.
4-1 goal 2:31 into the third period, via Nick Holden:
Yikes, you have to get that. Then again, Holden is unstoppable. (Cringes.)
5-1 goal 6:31 into the third period, via Matt Duchene:
There was a fair amount of bad luck involved in this one, but it’s an embarrassing goal in the context of a rough evening.
STILL, GIVE HIM A SHOT
Yes, it was a bad start. And maybe Dubnyk is somewhere between a weak starter and a solid backup.
I think it would be foolish to dismiss him right now, though. He’s shown the ability to string together nice runs of work, and most importantly, he’s playing in a system that still has the potential to hoist him up to a higher level.
And, hey, the Predators have even shown flashes of fight. As rough as that contest was, Nashville brought that game to 5-4 but couldn’t complete an improbable third period comeback. It won’t be an easy road for Nashville to finish this season, but desperation is there - and it should be for Dubnyk in a contract year, too - so there’s still much to be gained.
Worst case scenario, you could drop Dubnyk for someone else if he doesn’t work out, as he isn’t likely to cost anything more than an add/drop in most leagues (just 40 percent owned).
LEAKAGE WITH THE OIL
To little surprise, Oilers observers only grew bleaker after they lost 4-1 to the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 16. Interestingly, Copper & Blue held a poll for the worst goal Scrivens allowed, with the Jason Zucker 4-1 mark taking the win with 36 percent of the votes. I’ll look at the four goals anyway.
1-0 goal 10:36 into the first period, via Jason Pominville:
Tough for me to put this one on Scrivens. Shockingly, the Oilers’ biggest problems are on defense. WHO SAW THAT COMING?
2-1 goal 16:45 into the second period via Nate Prosser:
Heck of a shot by Prosser, but like Hejda’s goal on Dubnyk, those are the saves you have to make in the NHL. At least if you want to be a starter.
3-1 goal 18:57 into the second period via Justin Fontaine:
Ideally, Scrivens could have frozen the puck at some point, as Nail Yakupov was injured on the ice. He couldn’t, and his teammates kind of hung him out to dry there. I fear that will be a theme for a goalie who (once?) had sneaky solid stats.
4-1 goal eight seconds into the third period, via Jason Zucker:
Not sure what Scrivens could have done there, as that was a video game one-timer goal. I’m guessing Oilers fans voted this as the worst goal because it’s endemic of what is truly ailing Edmonton.
AGAIN, TAKE A BREATH
Overall, I’d give Scrivens more of a pass. Despite Nashville’s obsession with size in net, I think the best match might have been in Edmonton, as he’s generated very good NHL numbers in his scattered opportunities. But the reality is that Scrivens is stuck in a dire situation.
Instead, it’s Dubnyk who is receiving this chance, and team influence makes a huge difference in fantasy. I’m not jumping off the Dubnyk bandwagon anytime soon, but let me emphasize this again: it’s much easier to gamble on goalies when you merely need to drop the worst player on your team to give them a try. Honestly, I’d recommend dropping a defenseman or forward for a guy like Dubnyk when you’re in a trial run, at least if it’s Dubnyk vs. a solid third option in net.
So, with those lowered expectations, I’ll restate my impression that Dubnyk has some serious upside. Still, if this strange season of goalie upheaval is teaching us anything, it’s that these situations are increasingly unpredictable.
Although “the Oilers will hang your goalie out to dry” seems pretty dependable.
ANOTHER TORTS NOTE
You’ve probably heard my suspension/dirty hit/wanton violence spiel before, but if not, check here. The Cliffs Notes version: until the league punishes coaches (as well as general managers, ideally), goonery and cheap shots will go on unabated. Sure, a Matt Cooke might reform/adapt here and there, but there will just be another guy to take his place and break a more talented player’s face.
So, maybe it’s good that John Tortorella made an absolute fool of himself - and maybe to some, the league as a whole - by confronting the Calgary Flames in front of their locker room. The NHL often needs to be embarrassed to make changes, so maybe they’ll actually move in the right direction … or at least set a precedent for this type of behavior.
It’s not as if the warning signs haven’t been there. The Canucks have gooned it up for the last couple weeks, with Torts going as far as to justify Tom Sestito’s worst work. This is just the kind of clip even the NHL cannot ignore.
Taking a step back, maybe Tortorella actually might benefit from being suspended, if it happens … though obviously the embarrassment needs to fade. It’s possible the bitterness of being fired by the New York Rangers hasn’t really worn off, despite Torts landing on his feet right away. Perhaps a brief, involuntary break is exactly what the grinding, fiery coach needs, because it honestly seems like he's going off the rails.
Not sure what kind of fantasy impact any of this will have, aside from the Canucks possibly cooling off the explosive PIM generation. But we’ll see.
Either way, it’s an embarrassing situation, but sometimes shame can be a catalyst for change.
(And no, I don't think Bob Hartley should be fined or suspended, as his "tactic" is depressingly common ... Torts himself has done similar things. Now, I wouldn't mind if the league used this as inspiration to alter the rules enough to remove the incentive to do such shameless things, either.)
For a full list of injuries and suspensions, click here.