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Rambler's Top100

 

7 2011 . 
Khabibulin ignores rave reviews on his stellar game // The Edmonton Journal

By Joanne Ireland 

MONTREAL - Nikolai Khabibulin(notes), the Edmonton Oilers rejuvenated goaltender, has become a curiosity of sorts, dusting off a game that hasnt been in vogue since he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04.

He was 31-years-old back then, not 38, and he wasnt coming off the kind of season he had in 2010-11.

But written off as a goaltender past his prime, Khabibulin is still keeping company with the NHLs leaders.

Just dont ask him about the rave reviews he has been receiving.

I dont pay attention to any of it, he said. I havent gone on the Internet. I havent read any papers. I havent even gone to NHL.com.

The first couple of years I was in the league, I would go through the stats, but then you are shifting your focus on the wrong things. You dont need to know that a shooter has 60 points in 50 games. You just need to know hes good and that you have to be ready.

As far as having a great save percentage, well, then you start to focus on that instead of what you actually have to do to get there. I really stopped paying attention to all that.

Plus were just 13 games in. Things can change drastically this time of the year. You have a couple of bad games and youre just normal.

Ive seen it so many times. Guys will start out with 15 points in 10 games then they finish the season with 35. How good is that? I mean if it stays this way, great.

If somehow it starts changing, then Im not going to be thinking what if. I dont want to know.

The veteran, who got the night off against the Phoenix Coyotes so Devan Dubnyk(notes) could get in a game, will be back on the job Tuesday when the Oilers play the Montreal Canadiens.

Hell tote his staggering stats .98 goals-against average, .963 save percentage and two shutouts and do what he can to get the team back in the win column.

Khabibulin has not lost a game in regulation this season. At 6-0-2, hes fifth in the win category.

I think more about these things when things are not going well, he said. That bugs me more.

Khabibulin knows the other side of the equation.

In 2009-10, his first season with the Oilers after signing a four-year, $15-million US contract, Khabibulin played just 18 games before he left the lineup to have back surgery. His comeback campaign was troubling on and off the ice.

On the heels of a drunk-driving conviction in Scottsdale, Ariz., his save percentage dipped to .890 through 47 games and his goals-against average ballooned to 3.40 an average that he hadnt been tagged with since his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets in 1994-95.

After serving his sentence in an Arizona jail in the off-season, Khabibulin returned to Edmonton certain he was wiser for the experience and capable of reclaiming his game.

Meanwhile, fans were bemoaning the departure of Dwayne Roloson(notes), who bolted for Tampa Bay when the Lightning offered him a two-year contract, something the Oilers were not willing to do.

Roloson, 42, is eight games into the one-year $3-million contract he signed in the off-season and has a 3.71 GAA and a .886 save percentage.

Things have been good. So far, Khabibulin said. Hopefully, theyll stay that way for however long that is.

Hopefully it will be all year, but well see.

Not only did Khabibulin return to Edmonton more determined, he was no longer dealing with any residual effects from his surgery.

I dont feel anywhere near as stiff as I felt last year, he said. I had talked to the trainers and they all said Id never feel the same as I had felt before, so I expected it to be sore.

I expected that it was something I had to get used to, but it has just gotten better and better.

If its not 100 per cent now, its maybe 95-97 instead of 80 per cent.

Khabibulin put in the time in the off-season, working on his core, and by the time training camp opened, the soreness that was still lingering in May was gone.

Hes in great shape, he trains super hard, and hes a competitive guy, said Phoenix defenceman Derek Morris(notes), who has trained with the goaltender during the off-season. Hes one of those guys thats going to give you 100 per cent, and if hes healthy it just makes him more dangerous.

jireland@edmontonjournal.com

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