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Eberle gives Khabibulin plenty of support in return

by Robin Brownlee /
EDMONTON -- Jordan Eberle obviously isn't of the mind to let fellow rookies Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi have all of the fun with the Edmonton Oilers this preseason.

After watching Hall and Paajarvi steal the show in a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, Eberle made his own highlight reel bid with two goals and an assist in an 8-2 romp over the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place Sunday.

"There's a little bit of a competitive rivalry," Eberle said of trying to earn a roster spot with Paajarvi and Hall at his third camp with the Oilers.

"I think this is my eighth exhibition game and I've only played two in Rexall. To have a couple goals here at home, it's nice. The crowd is unbelievable. It's preseason, but it's amazing how excited they are."

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, coming off surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, made his first appearance in goal for the Oilers in more than 10 months, stopping 26 of 28 shots.

"I was a little bit tired after two periods," said Khabibulin, who went the distance. "Probably five or six minutes into the third, I started to feel really good."

Eberle was held off the score sheet in a 3-2 win over the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Wednesday in his first appearance this preseason, then watched from the stands for a 5-2 win over the Lightning.

Paajarvi, 19, selected with the 10th pick in 2009, scored three goals and added an assist. Hall, 18, the first pick this June in Los Angeles, added a goal, hit a post and was stopped on a breakaway.

Eberle, 20, didn't waste any time showing his stuff. He put two pucks behind Cory Schneider and set up a goal by linemate Shawn Horcoff as the Oilers jumped to a 4-1 lead through 20 minutes.

"He's a good player," said Horcoff, who was also Eberle's centre in the previous meeting against the Canucks. "He's getting better and better every game and he's real easy to play with.

"The game in Vancouver, we played against the Sedins the whole night. We had plenty of opportunities there, we just couldn't put one in. We just want to continue. We're preaching getting better ever game. Tonight was another step in that direction."

While Paajarvi got the night off against the Canucks, Oilers coach Tom Renney put Horcoff between Hall and Eberle. They had things pretty much their way early against a Vancouver line-up that was without Daniel and Henrik Sedin and defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Christian Ehrhoff.

Eberle's first goal came two minutes in on a power play as the former Regina Pat, drafted 22nd in 2008, beat Schneider high with a wrist shot. He sifted his second past Schneider with another wrist shot, this time off a 2-on-1 with Horcoff.

"You go out every day trying to make an impact, but sometimes the puck doesn't bounce your way and doesn't go in," he said. "It's not the end of the world as long as you're getting chances.

"After awhile, that kind of gets frustrating if you're not putting any in. To finally get a couple tonight was nice. I thought our line played really well. We seemed to be clicking and had a little bit of chemistry."

Eberle and Horcoff each finished the night with two goals and an assist, while Hall had two assists. Rookie Linus Omark also had a three-point night with a goal and two assists.

Khabibulin had plenty of support in his return to the ice. The 37-year-old veteran was supposed to carry the load in goal last season after signing a four-year deal worth $15 million, but got into just 18 games, going 7-9-2, before the injury ended his season.

Khabibulin's last game was Nov. 16, 2009 against Columbus, leaving crease duties to the inexperienced tandem of Jeff Deslauriers and rookie Devan Dubnyk. Khabibulin had surgery Jan. 13.

While Khabibulin showed some rust -- he didn't cover a loose puck on the goal line on Manny Malhotra's goal and he probably should've had Ryan Kesler's wrist shot from high in the slot to make it 5-2 -- he was more than good enough to pick up the win on this night.

"I didn't feel comfortable, like midseason form, I would say, but as the game went on I felt better," he said.

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