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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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    Seidenberg, without a contract, playing a key role for Team Europe

    BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    Dennis Seidenberg has been a key player for Team Europe at the World Cup, and he doesn’t even have an NHL contract.

    Seidenberg, 35, logged 23:30 in Europe’s 3-2 overtime upset of Sweden on Sunday. Only Roman Josi (29:00) played more for the winning side. Seidenberg even played more than his old Boston teammate, Zdeno Chara (22:26).

    “I’ve played quite a bit,” Seidenberg said earlier in the tournament, per the Associated Press. “People should know what I can do and can’t do by now, but nonetheless this is an important tournament for me.”

    A Stanley Cup champion in 2011, Seidenberg became an unrestricted free agent when he was bought out by the Bruins over the summer. At first, the decision shocked him, but the shock eventually passed. So far, he’s been holding out for a guaranteed contract, as opposed to a tryout.

    The Ottawa Senators are reportedly a potential landing spot.

    Seidenberg may not be a full-time, top-four defenseman anymore, but he should still be able to hold down a bottom-pairing role, with the ability to log top-four minutes if there’s an injury.

    He’ll get another good look from the scouts on Tuesday when Team Europe opens its best-of-three series with the heavy favorites from Canada. He’s not the only UFA blue-liner on his team, as 34-year-old Christian Ehrhoff is also playing a role, albeit a smaller one.

    Cashing in: Marchand inks eight-year, $49M extension in Boston

    Brad Marchand
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    This summer, we wondered what Brad Marchand’s next contract might look like.

    Now we know.

    Per Sportsnet, the Bruins have inked the talented, agitating winger to a hefty eight-year, $49 million contract extension — one that carries an average annual cap hit of $6.125 million per season.

    This news comes with Marchand heading into the final year of his current deal, a four-year, $18 million pact with a $4.5M AAV — so it’s a pretty nice pay bump.

    This extension will also make Marchand the club’s third highest-paid forward, behind David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, and will keep him in the black and gold through 2025.

    Earlier reports suggested Marchand’s initial ask was for $49 million over seven years.

    That the B’s were willing to tack on an extra year of term wasn’t surprising, especially in light of what GM Don Sweeney told WEEI earlier this summer.

    “I’ve identified March as a core guy, and we want to continue down that path,” Sweeney said. “It always takes two sides to make a deal, and I would envision that he’d like to be part of this organization for what could be arguably his whole career.”

    Coming off a year in which he finished sixth in the NHL in goals, with 37, Marchand has only upped his value in recent weeks with a terrific effort for Team Canada at the World Cup.

    The 28-year-old has starred on a line alongside Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, sitting second on the team in scoring with three goals and five points through four games. He also sits second on the team in shots on goal, with 17.

    Though his reputation is somewhat checkered and his disciplinary rap sheet is a mile long, Marchand has done plenty in trying to shed that label. He’s morphed into one of the better snipers in the league, and his presence on the Canadian national team will only further help erase perceptions he’s primarily an agitator.

    This contract will help, too.

    After failing physical, Grabovski placed on IR

    New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers
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    Mikhail Grabovski won’t be suiting up for the Islanders anytime soon.

    Grabovski, absent from Isles camp after failing to pass his physical, has been placed on IR with an upper-body injury, a byproduct of concussion symptoms he’s suffered since last season.

    The 32-year-old hasn’t suited up since Mar. 15, when he returned from a 10-game absence to play 17 minutes in a shootout loss to Pittsburgh.

    At the time, the Isles were happy to have Grabovski back in the lineup, but the feeling was fleeting. Immediately after the Pittsburgh game, the club sent Grabovski back to New York for medical evaluation.

    He didn’t play another game that year, or in the club’s playoff run.

    In the midst of a four-year, $20 million deal — set to expire in 2018 — it’s possible Grabovski will be placed on LTIR, in order to give the club financial relief from his $5 million cap hit.

    The Isles are pretty tight to the cap ceiling with Grabovski on the books, approximately $2.5M under (per General Fanager).

    ‘We are who we are’ — Stars stay committed to ‘high-octane’ hockey

    Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) celebrates scoring a goal with teammate left wing Jamie Benn (14) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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    The Dallas Stars had the best offense in the NHL last season, but only the 19th-best goals-against. It was a combination that made them arguably the most exciting team to watch, but also one that ended with a second-round defeat to the St. Louis Blues.

    In the Stars’ four losses to the Blues, they surrendered 20 goals combined. When it was over, much of the blame was assigned to their two goalies, and by extension to their general manager.

    Just don’t expect the Stars to dramatically change their ways in 2016-17. They are who they are, and they don’t want to be anything else.

    “Everybody is raving about Team North America (at the World Cup), and that’s the way we play hockey,” GM Jim Nill said, per the Dallas Morning News. “We are who we are, and we don’t want to get away from that. We’re a high-end, high-octane type of team. That’s how we’re built.”

    That being said, head coach Lindy Ruff is still aiming “to take 10 percent off that goals against,” which would put the Stars’ goals-against around No. 10 in the league.

    After all, even the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, not exactly known for playing lock-it-down hockey, found a way to put up good defensive numbers on their way to winning it all.

    “As I’ve said to them all along, I know our team is going to score goals,” said the winning head coach, Mike Sullivan. “In order to win championships, you got to keep it out of your net. You have to become a team that is stingy defensively. Everybody has to buy in to that idea for us to get to where we want to go. To their credit, they did, down to a man.”

    Related: Team North America was fun