I suppose it was inevitable that putting a heavy workload on the shoulders of soon-to-be 37-year-old goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin would eventually cause pain for the Edmonton Oilers, but if the home team wants to survive this campaign, Jeff Deslauriers will be a large part of the solution while Khabby deals with a bad back.
Fittingly enough, Deslauriers is coming off his first NHL shutout, which he earned in a 4-0 victory over Phoenix Monday night. The 25-year-old Quebec native has slowly worked his way up the ranks in his brief pro career, biding his time in the ECHL before getting work in the American League and finally in The Show last year, when he went 4-3-0 for the Oilers in spot duty.
The interesting thing about Deslauriers is the fact his stats have been improving as he has graduated leagues. Though he’s appeared in just six Edmonton games so far this year, Deslauriers’ .916 save percentage is his best total in five years, while his 2.48 goals-against average is just one tick off his best in the same time period.
Stellar numbers? No, perhaps not. But acceptable numbers? To be sure.
For the Oilers to wrest themselves from their mediocre ways and make a true effort at a playoff berth this year, they must help out Deslauriers as much as he must help out the guys skating in front of him.
Defensive awareness is tops on the list. The Oilers are currently surrendering 32.6 shots on net per game, which puts them in the bottom-five in the NHL. When Edmonton is on its game, players are rushing towards open pucks and dominating possession. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened as much as it did early in the season and coach Pat Quinn’s post-game press conferences have amply explained the team’s shortcomings of effort.
But with an inexperienced goalie, vigilance is a must. The Oilers have a tough schedule moving forward with a resurgent L.A. first on the docket. Following the Kings, Edmonton takes on San Jose, Vancouver, Detroit and Dallas. All these teams can score, despite some injury woes. To give Deslauriers the support he needs to succeed, the Oilers must tighten up in front of him.
This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.