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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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    Julien: ‘We don’t have enough talent to … get away with a mediocre game’

    Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien looks up at the score board during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Boston, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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    Another game, another loss for the Boston Bruins, who came apart in the third period of Sunday’s game versus Pittsburgh, resulting in a 5-1 defeat.

    That’s four straight losses for the Bruins. Claude Julien’s job security appears on the line. Following talk of Julien’s future in Boston, there has been criticism toward the Bruins front office for failure to improve key areas of their roster during the offseason.

    On Saturday, Julien said he wasn’t quitting on his team. On Sunday, after another frustrating defeat, in which Boston carried the play, particularly in the second period, Julien offered a pretty frank assessment of his team and its current make up.

    “This is a team that needs all 20 guys going to win. We don’t have enough talent to think we can get away with a mediocre game,” he said, per Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.

    Scoring is a major issue for the Bruins. They’ve been terrific with puck possession, the best team in the league in that category at even strength, but they’re in the bottom third of the league when it comes to goals-for. Against the Penguins, they tested Matt Murray with 45 shots, including 22 in the second period, and could only manufacture one goal.

    It didn’t help Boston’s cause that their starting goalie Tuukka Rask left the game due to migraines and didn’t return. Zane McIntyre entered the game and was ventilated for three goals in under three minutes in the third period. Game over.

    And that just adds more scrutiny on the Bruins and Julien’s job security.

    “Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron, per CSNNE.com.

    “But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”

    It’s gone from bad to worse for the Bruins

    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 16:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden on December 16, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Penguins 3-0.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    The bad news continues for the Boston Bruins.

    With head coach Claude Julien on the hot seat — he didn’t wish to discuss his future following Friday’s heartbreaking defeat to Chicago but spoke at length on Saturday about how he’s “not quitting on the team” — the Bruins came unraveled over a three-minute stretch in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

    That’s the wrong team to come unraveled against.

    The Penguins scored three times in just under three minutes early in the third, and suddenly the Bruins went from being in a close game, albeit in a trailing position, to a rout. When you have as dangerous a lineup as the Penguins do, led by Sidney Crosby, who had three points today, a game can quickly get way from the opposition.

    Boston lost 5-1, despite another decided edge in puck possession — the Bruins lead the league in that category at even strength — and on the shot clock. They peppered Matt Murray with 45 shots, including 22 shots in the middle period and still emerged down a goal.

    Further to that, Boston’s goalie Tuukka Rask left the game in the second period and did not return.

    Per the Bruins at the beginning of the third period: Rask was not feeling well and would not return. Enter Zane McIntyre off the bench and the Penguins went on a scoring frenzy that ultimately ruined any chance of a Boston comeback.

    Murray provided a little added salt in the wound, as he robbed Brad Marchand with the glove in close. That would not have had an impact on the end result. The Bruins were down four at the time, late in the period. That would’ve made the final score seem a tad more respectable. That’s it. But that missed opportunity seemed symbolic of their struggles to score.

    They have lost four straight, although they remain third in the Atlantic Division.

    The Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

    Tuukka Rask leaves game for Bruins (Updated)

    SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 7: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks up at the video on the scoreboard after making a save against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    Times are a little tough for the Boston Bruins right now with losses in three consecutive games and speculation regarding the future of their coach.

    What they do not need at this point is any kind of a significant injury to a key player, so it has to be a concern that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask had to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the second period.

    He was replaced in net by backup Zane McIntyre.

    The Bruins have yet to offer an update as to why Rask left the game or what his status is. He allowed two goals on 22 shots before exiting.

    Even though he has been slumping in recent weeks Rask’s play for most of the season (he entered play on Sunday with a .920 save percentage on the season) has been a big reason the Bruins have climbed back up the goals against rankings after doing little to improve their defense over the summer.

    Updated: Per Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com, Rask suffered a migraine attack, forcing him from the game.

    Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

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    This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

    Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

    On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

    As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

    Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

    For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

    The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

    Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.