Edmonton Oilers v Dallas Stars

Tom Renney admits that Nikolai Khabibulin’s role next season remains a ‘great mystery’

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As the Edmonton Oilers stockpile prospects and young players, the optimism around the organization remains strong. But as I’ve said before, at some point fans will grow tired of so-called potential and crave an on-ice product that isn’t regularly embarrassing.

Despite only scoring 193 goals (third worst in the NHL) last season, it seems like the team’s offense seems is moving in the right direction, especially if Taylor Hall has a strong second season and Ales Hemsky stays healthy in his contract year.

One must perceive the Oilers’ biggest issues to be in their own end of the ice, then. Merely glancing at the Edmonton Journal’s tragically comical poll about the team’s best defensive corps from the last four years sheds a troubling light on the team’s defensive deficits. Perhaps the team could make up for those shortcomings on the blueline by enjoying some sterling play from their netminders, but it’s tough to say that they’ll get above average results from their questionable duo of Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk.

Even Oilers coach Tom Renney isn’t sure what to expect from Khabibulin in general, as he admitted that the troubled Russian’s 2011-12 season remains a mystery even to the team that employs him.

Renney said Khabibulin’s physical and mental health will be assessed in training camp.

“I certainly don’t expect Nikolai Khabibulin to play 70 games. I’m not sure he can play 60. I’m not sure he can play 50. That’s the great mystery here.”

As for Devan Dubnyk, Renney said the young goalie needs to get stronger, more explosive, a fair critique. He added that Dubnyk will take over from Khabibulin sooner or later. “I think this is a young fellow who is on the verge of being a National Hockey League starter. There’s no question about that.”

Khabibulin is certainly getting older, Renney said.

“For me, it’s a perfect scenario at some point in time, whether it’s this year or the beginning of next year, sooner rather than later remains to be seen, but there is an opportunity for a changing of the guard. And it should be a healthy situation.”

Renney also spoke about banged-up defenseman Ryan Whitney, who’s still experiencing some tenderness in his surgically repaired ankle. The former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman ranks as one of the best options Edmonton has on defense, which is a troubling statement even beyond his health struggles because the solid offensive blueliner has his occasional struggles with turnovers.

I’ve seen some people list the Oilers as a possible dark horse candidate, which seems like a fun gamble to throw out because of their young talent. The problem is that they’re a flawed team in the stacked Western Conference, where it’s tough to imagine them overcoming their sub-par defense and shaky goaltending.

It would be great if that instinct ends up being wrong because Oilers fans have been waiting patiently for the team to regain the form they only briefly enjoyed during a Cinderella run with Chris Pronger and Dwayne Roloson. For that to happen, they’re going to need to see continued promise from Dubnyk and a much sturdier Bulin Wall.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.