Nikolai Khabibulin’s stellar play stealing the show in Edmonton

While it’s awfully early in the season to get too excited about the play of any one player, one guy you have to think is doing especially well considering all things is Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. After an off-season filled with more questions about whether or not he would be going to jail for drunken driving rather than whether or not his injured back would hold up this year, you can’t help but think he might be a bit distracted.

Two games into the season, however, Khabibulin has answered the call after delivering stellar performances against Calgary and Florida, earning a shutout against the Flames on opening night and turning in some spectacular saves in a 3-2 win over Florida last night, including this beauty on Chris Higgins.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf

The Edmonton Journal’s Dan Barnes feels that credit for the Oilers solid start to the season should go to Khabibulin, because without him, the Oilers would be dealing with highly questionable goaltending on top of already iffy defense.

If they want to be a competitive team, Khabibulin is going to be called upon to play cleanup back there in the crease and everybody knows it. But good grief, the forwards and defencemen are going to have to actually show up for all three periods one of these nights. Their first 20 minutes against Florida evoked chilling memories of their defensive lapses from last year. And the one before. They were down 11-3 on the shot clock but deadlocked at zeros on the scoreboard thanks to Khabibulin’s glove hand and deft moves against a couple of Grade A chances.

Now, the goalie is a part of the team and is expected to do his part. I get that. But the Oilers were outshot 28-13 on the night and their skaters were often abysmal.

With Khabibulin back there, the saves have been getting made. Could the same be said of his backups and heirs to the starting throne Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk? After seeing how those two performed last season in Khabibulin’s absence the answer is a resounding “no.”

That said, Khabibulin likely can’t keep up this sort of frenetic level of play all season long. Getting tighter defense from the Oilers would go a long way towards helping him out, but then again, we knew the Oilers’ defense was going to be a major hangup this season anyhow. Until things start to break down there, the Oilers should keep making the most of Khabibulin’s stellar play while they can and perhaps spin that into a run at a playoff spot later in the year.

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    Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

    The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

    Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

    Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

    Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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    Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

    The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

    Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

    One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

    He also had a few choice words for No. 87:

    Sens, Avs to play pair of regular-season games in Sweden

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    NEW YORK (AP) The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two regular-season games in Sweden next season.

    The NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Friday announced their new Global Series games Nov. 10 and 11 in Stockholm.

    The Avalanche and Senators will play the NHL’s first regular-season games in Europe since 2011. It’s the NHL’s sixth trip to Europe and the seventh and eighth games played in Sweden.

    Colorado’s captain is 24-year-old Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog. Ottawa’s captain is 26-year-old Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson, winner of the 2012 and 2015 Norris Trophy.

    Other Swedes currently playing for the two clubs include Ottawa’s Frederik Claesson (Stockholm) and Viktor Stalberg (Gothenburg), and Colorado’s Anton Lindholm (Skelleftea) and Carl Soderberg (Malmo).

    Commissioner Gary Bettman says with more Swedish players than ever, it’s a good chance to showcase the game there. Eighty-four Swedes have played in the NHL this season, roughly 9 percent of the league.

    “We have more Swedish players than ever in the NHL, and we are extremely pleased that the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series will allow us to showcase a number of those players, with their NHL teams, in their homeland,” Bettman said. “The return of regular-season NHL games to the international stage will provide yet another highlight for our Centennial celebration.”

    Mario Lemieux is ‘fine’ with Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66

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    Believe it or not, many people have an issue with Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66, but it sounds like former Penguins great Mario Lemieux isn’t one of them.

    On Thursday, Lemieux made it clear that Ho-Sang using his number wasn’t an issue.

    “I’m fine with it,” Lemieux said via a spokesperson, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s just a number. Number 4 and number 9 were worn by great players (Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, respectively), and they are not retired forever. Players can choose whatever number they want.”

     Unlike the number 99, the NHL hasn’t retired 66, which means any player can still use it.

    Some see it as a sign of disrespect, but Ho-Sang has made it clear that that’s the last thing on his mind when he decided he wanted to wear Lemieux’s old number.

    “It’s honoring [Lemieux] and just, I think a lot more people remember who he is now because they’re yelling at me about wearing the number, right? I think that’s cool too,” he told Newsday earlier this month. “There’s a lot of light being shined on an amazing player. By no means am I trying to be better than or trying to prove anything. For me, it’s definitely a tribute to a great player. If he asked me not to wear it, I’d definitely consider it, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls or anything. So for now I’m gonna wear it.”

    Even though Lemieux has now given his blessing, don’t be surprised if Penguins fan are all over Ho-Sang during Friday’s game between the two teams at PPG Paints Arena.