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Khabibulin blames himself for skid - St. Petersburg Times
The Lightning goalie is frustrated by ''inconsistent'' play, and vows to get better.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
MONTREAL -- Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was one of the last Lightning players off the ice after Wednesday's practice. As he sat at his locker answering questions, sweat poured down his face.
Apropos considering Tampa Bay is sweating through a season in which Khabibulin, in his own evaluation, has been "inconsistent."
Even more pointedly, Khabibulin said, "That's a big reason we're losing points right now. If we want to make the playoffs, I need to start playing better."
Let's be clear: No one player is to blame for a skid in which the Lightning is 2-6-1-2 and winless in five straight road games. In fact, if the defense was more poised and the forwards better at converting scoring chances, the record would not be as bad and this might not be an issue.
Khabibulin still dazzles with mind-bending saves and, entering Wednesday, he was tied for second in the league with 13 victories and Tampa Bay was first in the Southeast.
But when all else fails, Khabibulin is expected to be there; it is the cornerstone of the Lightning's high-risk system. Too many times this season he has not.
Numbers tell the story. Khabibulin, who was pulled during Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Wild after allowing four goals on 15 shots, and three on three shots in the second period, has a .905 save percentage. Among goalies with at least 20 games, that ranked 14th. His 2.71 goals-against average was 15th.
Compare that to last season's .920 save percentage (tied for fifth in the league) and 2.36 goals-against average.
"It's been really frustrating," Khabibulin said. "We're winning some games, I'm happy about that, but on a personal level, I don't think I've played up to the potential I can play. I haven't played up to the standards I can play. I think it's just inconsistent play overall. I'm not even saying game to game but play to play."
Theories abound, but none seems appropriate.
Fatigue: Khabibulin has started 27 of 29 games. But he is in the best shape of his career and once started 49 consecutive games for the Coyotes.
Pressure: The Lightning's system demands its defensemen play offensively, which heightens the potential for facing odd-man rushes and quality shots. But as the Olympics and last season's all-star game proved, the 29-year-old Russian, who is making $3.873-million this season, is usually at his best in high-stakes situations.
Lack of work: Khabibulin admits he is better when he faces more shots. But the difference seems negligible. The Lightning is allowing an average of 28.6 shots this season. It allowed 30.8 last season.
Whatever the causes, coach John Totorella said, "We need to get him on a consistent level. That's the key to getting us out of this little mess."
There is more to the story, of course.
"The coaches need to make the right decisions as to who is on the ice," Tortorella said. "We need our defensemen to make better plays. We need our forwards to step up and score some big goals."
But there is no getting around it. "We need some big saves, which we're not getting," he said.
The Lightning hopes that changes tonight as it closes a four-game road trip against the Canadiens at the Molson Centre. Tortorella usually doesn't name his goalie in advance but said Khabibulin will start.
That is fine with center Vinny Lecavalier.
"We believe in him," Lecavalier said. "You can't be unbelievable every single game. He's great a lot of the time, and that's what makes him stop 40 pucks. Nik's a great goaltender. I believe he's the best goalie in the world."
"I have two choices," Khabibulin said. "I can quit, which I won't do, or keep trying to better my game and work hard and do the best I can."
In that case, it was good to see Khabibulin sweat.
5 ноября. Khabibulin takes up Tretiak's torchToronto
Sun - Toronto Sun
28 октября. Николай Хабибуллин: С памятником повременим
- Советский Спорт
24 октября. Khabibulin to keep starting -
St. Petersburg Times
5 ноября. Khabibulin takes up Tretiak's torchToronto Sun - Toronto Sun
28 октября. Николай Хабибуллин: С памятником повременим - Советский Спорт
24 октября. Khabibulin to keep starting - St. Petersburg Times