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.

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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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    The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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    Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

    The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

    Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

    Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

    Highlight of the night:

    Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

    MISC:

    Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

    Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

    Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

    -The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

    Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

    -Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

    Factoid of the night:

    Scores:

    Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

    Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

    Kings 5, Canadiens 1

    Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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    Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

    After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

    Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

    Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

    LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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    Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

    Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

    After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

    As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

    St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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    The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

    It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

    You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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