Edmonton - January 3, 2012 - With the month of December now in the books, it's time to look back at the month that was and dish out my monthly Edmonton Oilers report card. Each players rating will be based on their performance from opening night up to and including the teams last game on December 31st. Yesterday I took a look at the forwards and coaches so today the focus turns to the blueline and goaltenders.
Devan Dubnyk - While Dubnyk's December numbers of 1-4 with a 3.46 GAA and a .902 SV% was a marked improvement from his November stats, they are simply not good enough. Unless, he is alright with being nothing more then a spot starter as a backup goalie. The time has come for Devan to step up his game or risk losing his spot as the next possible starter in Edmonton. While Khabibulin continues to get the bulk of the work, Dubnyk was given a stretch where he started three of four games and he promptly lost all three and was poor in two of the three outings.
Needs To Work On: His positional play continues to be an issue from game to game and sometimes period to period. When Dubnyk is positionally sound, he is very difficult to beat but far too often he has been scrambling, which is not his game. If he could just string together a few decent starts he might be able to still salvage his season.
Nikolai Khabibulin - The veteran netminder's numbers continue to come back down to earth but outside of two poor performances at the end of the month, Khabibulin kept his team in games they had no right being in. His stats for the month were 2-5 with a 3.21GAA and a .896 SV%, were as good as Dubnyk's and hence why this team won all of three games this month. After a strong middle part of December, the Russian goaltender was poor in games against Vancouver and Minnesota.
Needs To Work On: Khabibulin has appeared to tire of late and it has shown up in his numbers. The coaching staff gave him time off to start the month and he rebounded with a run of strong performances but as I mentioned earlier, his last two starts were not very good. All things being equal, Khabby has been great for much of the season but he needs to relocate the consistency in his game that he displayed earlier in the year.
Cam Barker - The blueliner remains on the sideline with an injured ankle and is unlikely to return until sometime in February. Many didn't like what Barker brought to the table early on but since the defenceman has been out of the lineup, the Oilers have gone 6-15-1 and have become unglued in the defensive zone.
Tom Gilbert - Gilbert has played major minutes for the Oilers all season long and with the struggles of Ryan Whitney being what they have been, there doesn't seem to be any rest coming for the veteran blueliner. Even with the club falling apart during the month of December, Gilbert was somehow a plus player and continued doing whatever this team needs of him. He is still in the running for the team MVP and along with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, has been the most improved player from last year's roster.
Needs To Work On: Gilbert has started to give up the puck with a little more frequency and has found himself out of position more often then he had earlier in the season. Much of that has to do with playing too many minutes but he still must try to keep his game as simple as possible and stop from trying to do too much.
Theo Peckham - Theo has had a very tough season but to his credit, the rugged defenceman has bounced back of late with a much more rounded game. Peckham has stopped making the glaring mistakes he was "creating" on a nightly basis and has no longer a liability every time he hits the ice. Don't get me wrong, Theo still has his issues but they are nothing like they were during the first two months of the season. He is currently tied for the team lead with a +3 rating.
Needs To Work On: Keeping his game simple and ensuring that he is a physical presence every game, is really all that Peckham needs to do. He is playing more minutes then he should but so is everyone else on Edmonton's blueline.
Jeff Petry - After taking a big step in his overall game in November, Petry's play took a bit of a step back. His performance against the Flames stands out as a low point for the second year Oiler, who gets himself into trouble by chasing the puck all over the ice. Petry has shown a marked improvement at the point on the power play and hopefully he will be given more opportunity as the season progresses.
Needs To Work On: Simple, simple, simple...Petry doesn't need to be a hero, he just needs to be consistent.
Alex Plante: The young defenceman got into one game against the Vancouver Canucks on Boxing Day and was absolutely destroyed by Vancouver forward Dale Weise. Plante was knocked into next week and hasn't seen action since. He is currently out with a concussion with no timetable set for his return.
Corey Potter - It was a sight for sore eyes when Potter came back to the Oilers starting lineup in mid-December. His all-around steady play was badly missed but it was on the power play that his absence was most noticeable. While he has struggled to find his early season form, the rearguard is still putting points up on the board. In seven games, Potter collected four points and now sits with twelve points through twenty-two games. That's a forty point season over an 82 game schedule and I think it is safe to say no one envisioned that type of production from the former New York Ranger farmhand.
Needs To Work On: Since Potter returned from his ankle sprain, he has been trying to do too much and it has shown in his play. He has stopped allowing the play to come to him and looks as though he is trying to do three things at once. If he doesn't calm things down on the ice, the mistakes will continue to pile up.
Ladislav Smid - Much like his partner Tom Gilbert, Smid has been asked to play major minutes in almost every role this season and he continues to take strides in his game. After going nearly two years between goals Laddy has managed to score three goals during a fourteen game stretch, as he continues to try and develop all aspects of his game. While his shot blocking pace has dropped dramatically from the ridiculous pace he set at the beginning of the season, Smid still ranks seventh in the league and is only fifteen behind league leader, Josh Gorges.
Needs To Improve On: He does still try and block nearly every shot and when he is unsuccessful, he tends to either be way out of position or badly screening his netminder.
Andy Sutton - The big defenceman played all of four games for Edmonton in December because he was serving his second suspension of the season, this one being an eight game hiatus. When in the lineup the hulking defender continues to play well in the defensive zone and has found a way to occasionally contribute upfront. Sutton has emerged as a leader for this club and has become a calming influence when he's out on the ice...who would have thought that one was possible before the season started?
Needs To Improve On: Andy has to find a way to play his physical style of game, while not getting suspended. It's a tough line for the D-man such as Sutton to tow but it's one he needs to figure out if he wants to stay in the NHL.
Colten Teubert - The young defenceman has been yo-yo'd up and down from Oklahoma City to Edmonton over the past two months but his play has remained solid. Whenever Teubert gets into a game, you know what you are going to get. He'll give you 12-15 minutes of hard-nosed hockey and bang as many bodies as possible. At this stage of the game not much else can be expected from 21 year-old blueliner.
Needs To Improve On: Colten's challenges remain the same, dealing with the speed of the game at this level but that will come with time. While he does make the odd poor decision, he is far from being mistaken prone and can generally be trusted to make the right decision.
Ryan Whitney - The struggles of Ryan Whitney should come as no surprise. He is returning from a major injury and I had somewhat low expectations for the clubs top blueliner heading into 2011-2012. Having said that, Whitney has been far worse then I had even envisioned and has become more of a liability, then anything else, when out on the ice. Hard to believe that he is the same player that out and out dominated games during the first half of the 2010-2011 campaign.
Needs To Improve On: As disappointing as Whitney's play has been, I find it very hard to give him a grade of any sort. While he has clearly not been the same player since returning from his ankle injury, he did recently reveal that he has been playing in discomfort all season long. His play is nowhere near the level that this club was hoping but since he is playing on one leg, I can cut Whitney slack and hope he is fully recovered for next season. In my opinion, he shouldn't play another game until next year's training camp.