Nikolai Khabibulin

Can Nikolai Khabibulin get his career back together?

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If you’re not the patient type, you might think that the Edmonton Oilers are at a crossroads. At some point, Oilers fans will likely grow tired of the word “potential.” Sure, they might be delighted by the bevy of high draft picks still in their teens or early 20’s right now, but at some point earning the top pick of the draft will be more shameful than hopeful. Sooner or later, this team needs to start winning games.

If you’re a realist, it’s pretty tough to envision that time being the 2011-12 season. That being said, a Hollywood scriptwriter might see an obvious redemption story revolving around the Oilers and their wayward goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

“The Bulin Wall” falls apart

The 38-year-old goalie has seen plenty of ups and downs in his career – from contract squabbles in Phoenix to a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay to a mixed bag in Chicago and finally that ludicrous four-year, $15 million deal with Edmonton – but things have been decidedly “down” since he became an Oiler. His worst moment came last summer, when he received an extreme DUI and reckless driving charge. Khabibulin was able to appeal and postpone jail time in order to play hockey last season, but will face the music for 30 days (half in prison, half with an “electric monitoring device”) this summer after dropping his appeal.

Things haven’t been much better on the ice, either

This story would probably gain more attention if Khabibulin found the hockey rink as a sanctuary, but if his on-ice results are any indication, it hasn’t provided him much comfort. During two seasons with the Oilers, Khabibulin went 17-41-6 in 63 games played with mediocre (.909 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in 09-10) to awful (.890 save percentage and 3.40 GAA in 10-11) individual numbers.

The Edmonton Journal is polling its audience to see if the goalie deserves a second chance, but since Khabibulin’s contract is a 35+ deal, the Oilers are forced to keep him around unless some foolish team decides to trade for him. Head coach Tom Renney indicated that the starting job is Khabibulin’s to lose, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he had a short leash this season.

Edmonton’s troubling options in net

The team will probably lean on over-sized prospect goalie Devan Dubnyk more either way, especially since he nearly went .500 (12-13-8) and put up an above average .916 save percentage and 2.71 GAA. If their 2011-12 seasons resemble 10-11, it won’t be long before Khabibulin ends up parked on the bench.

It’s a grim situation though, with one goalie who seems done (Khabibulin) and one goalie who might not be ready yet (Dubnyk). Yann Danis ranks as the “break glass in case of an emergency” goalie, but if it comes to that, the Oilers very well might be in draft lottery talk land again.

Really, the only bummer is that Khabibulin isn’t in a contract year. He won a Cup right before his contract expired in Tampa Bay and mysteriously played his best year of hockey with the Blackhawks in a similar situation.

Perhaps the possibility of a 2012-13 turnaround is something Oilers fans can look forward to, because the next season could be another bleak one.

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.