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27 февраля 2013 года.
Oilers have a pair of slick netminders; Ageless Khabibulin getting more playing time than expected early in season // The Vancouver Sun

Matheson, Jim. 

Edmonton Oilers coach Ralph Krueger says his intuition told him to play veteran Nikolai Khabibulin against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Monday rather than return to Devan Dubnyk, who is supposed to be their No. 1 goalie.

Krueger might have been sick to his stomach if Khabibulin was digging pucks out of the net against the Blackhawks, the NHL's greatest team from the start of a season on the strength of their 19-game points streak, while Dubnyk sat on the bench.

But the 40-year-old Khabibulin gave his club a chance to win until the Oilers skaters deserted him in overtime, allowing Patrick Sharp to go hard to the net before Marian Hossa converted his own rebound.

Krueger made a gut-feeling call on Khabibulin, who was supposed to be the Oilers mop-up backup when he returned from rehabilitation after his hip surgery. Instead, he's pushing Dubnyk for the starting job.

For now, the Oilers do seem to have a tandem in net, although Khabibulin's body has broken down the last couple of seasons after impressive starts.

Dubnyk did a very good job in his first 10 games this season showing that he has the chops to be a No. 1 goalie, but he lost two of his last three starts to the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild. He was pulled after 20 minutes against the Colorado Avalanche.

Khabibulin, meanwhile, has run up a 2-2-1 record, with a 2.10 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in limited work.

"We believe in Devan, but I made the choice to go with Nik because of the emotions coming from his past years playing for Chicago," Krueger said.

"To tell you the truth, sometimes you have a stomach decision. This was a good chance for Devan to regroup (by letting Khabibulin play against the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday in a 3-2 win and play him again in Chicago). We've had two excellent practices with him and he'll come back strong after this."

Playing Khabibulin, whose 16-year NHL career is winding down, while the 26-year-old Dubnyk sat in the biggest game of the Oilers season seemed to be sending mixed messages to the younger goalie.

But Krueger doesn't think Dubnyk needs any reassurance that he's still their top guy.

"We have a really good goaltending duo ... Devan had some really bad bounces in our homestand (against Colorado and Dallas) and I feel that's purged. He'll come back fine," Krueger said.

"In Khabby's case, at his age, we have to be smart with his energy. We took the gamble he had enough left against the Blackhawks and he certainly did," said Krueger, who watched the Russian make 31 saves as the Oilers were outshot 34-19.

One Blackhawks goal went in off defenceman Ladislav Smid's stick, another was a goalmouth poke-in, with the puck just clearing the line, and Hossa's winner was a complete breakdown by the Oilers during four-on-four.

Jeff Petry let Sharp go to the net, Smid didn't get to Hossa and the two Oilers forwards, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, stayed at the blue-line too long rather than pulling back and helping out on a very dangerous situation.

"He made a great save on me and I just kept battling and tried to put it in," Hossa said.

Dubnyk will almost surely be playing Thursday, the third time he's faced the Stars this season. He lost the first one on Jaromir Jagr's overtime winner and a second one on two weird bounces - a wild Brenden Dillon shot that smacked off the end glass, then hit the goalie on the back of his jersey and in; the second a shot taken by Eric Nystrom that hit Dubnyk in the face, then the puck ricocheted off the post and in.

But Khabibulin, who has played 788 NHL regular-season games and 72 in the playoffs, isn't ready to be anybody's caddy. He's playing so well that he certainly could be dealt at the trade deadline April 3 if the Oilers are out of the playoff picture. The Boston Bruins might want him as playoff insurance for Tuukka Rask rather than count on Anton Khudobin in case the Finn gets hurt.

"I am very happy with how things are going, especially physically," said Khabibulin, who is in the last year of his four-year, $15.25-million contract.

But he looks around and sees Martin Brodeur still playing well at age 40 and his New Jersey Devils backup Johan Hedberg doing the same at 39.

"Yeah, I am happy I can play."

"Khabby's surprised me. He's been an unbelievable competitor in the games he's played for us," Krueger said. "Once again, we have to be realistic on how many games we can get out of him."

This is also the season the Oilers planned on giving Dubnyk most of the starts. Most people thought he'd play 40 of the 48 games. Instead, Khabibulin has already had five starts and might get 15 to 18 if Krueger adopts more of a 60-40 ratio in the last 30 games.

"It's great when the coach has confidence in you, but I believe he has confidence in Devan and myself," Khabibulin said.

Credit: Jim Matheson; Postmedia News

Страничка Николая Хабибулина на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


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