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Khabibulin may be returning to his old form

by John Kreiser
Nikolai Khabibulin has been reminding NHL shooters that he used to be one of the League's premier goaltenders.

Khabibulin and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers had a miserable season in 2010-11 -- they finished last overall for the second straight season, and he went 10-32-4 with a 3.40 goals-against average and a save percentage of just .890.

But the Oilers, one of the NHL's youngest teams, have won six of their first 10 games, and their 38-year-old goaltender is a big reason for the early success.

Khabibulin allowed just three goals this past week in beating Vancouver (3-2) and Washington (2-1). Through six starts, he's 4-0-2 with a GAA of just 0.97 and a save percentage of .964 -- six goals allowed on 175 shots. He looks like the goaltender who earned the nickname "The Bulin Wall" while leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004, rather than the one who was 17-41-6 in his first two seasons with the Oilers.

Five up -- Five players who are playing well:

Claude Giroux -- Why was Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren willing to deal Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? One reason was that he knew he still had Giroux, who capped a seven-point week with a goal and three assists against Carolina on Saturday.

Carey Price
Goalie - MTL
RECORD: 4-4-2
GAA: 2.59 | SVP: 0.900
Carey Price -- It's no accident that the Montreal Canadiens got hot at the same time their goaltender did. Montreal won three times in four days after getting off to its worst start in 70 years -- and Price allowed just four goals in the three games.
Marc-Andre Fleury -- Fleury's play in goal has been the biggest constant for Pittsburgh this season as the Penguins cope with a barrage of injuries. He gave up just two goals in winning both starts this week and is 4-0-0 with just four goals allowed.

Joe Pavelski -- San Jose is a perfect 5-0-0 on a six-game trip that ends Monday in New York, and Pavelski has been carrying a lot of the offensive load. He has five goals and nine points in the five games, including a goal and an assist in Saturday's 3-2 OT win against the Islanders.

Roman Horak -- The 20-year-old was an afterthought in the deal that sent 2009 first-rounder Tim Erixon from Calgary to the Rangers. But Horak is making an impression with the Flames, scoring a goal and adding an assist twice in three nights to help the Flames win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Eric Belanger -- The veteran center has never been a huge scorer, but it's safe to say the Edmonton Oilers were expecting more than one assist in 10 games (and no points in eight) from someone who had 13 goals and 40 points last season.

Blake Comeau -- One reason the New York Islanders are struggling to score is a lack of secondary scoring. Comeau, a 24-goal scorer last season, has not put up a point in seven games this season -- and was a healthy scratch for two others.

Chris Stewart -- Stewart has been one of the NHL's more productive power forwards in the last two seasons, but he's off to a slow start with just two goals in 10 games -- and no points with a minus-3 rating in his last seven.

Steve Downie -- Downie's offensive production has all but disappeared. After scoring 22 goals and 46 points two years ago and going 10-22-32 in 57 games last season, he has just one goal and two points this season -- and is pointless with a minus-6 rating in his last eight games.

Keith Ballard -- Ballard had a goal on opening night for the Vancouver Canucks, but has struggled badly since then -- not only has he gone without a point, but he's minus-10 in those 10 games.

Injuries, news and notes -- The Sidney Crosby watch continues. He's looked good in practices but still hasn't had much contact as he works to recover from a concussion. The Penguins' schedule lightens up in the next couple of weeks, which could allow him to get more practice work in before he returns to game action.

Out -- Washington defenseman Mike Green didn't play in either of the Caps' games last week due to an ankle injury. … Winnipeg placed defenseman Derek Meech on IR with a lower-body injury. Goaltender Chris Mason left Thursday's game with a sore groin and didn't dress Saturday. … Edmonton's top defenseman, Ryan Whitney, will miss at least another couple of weeks with a knee injury. … Philadelphia center Brayden Schenn went on IT with a broken foot and is likely to miss at least a month. … Pittsburgh lost defenseman Zbynek Michalek for a month with a broken finger, and center Jordan Staal missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. … Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson left Saturday's game in New York with a head injury and didn't return. Backup goalie Alex Auld missed the game with an undisclosed injury. … Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne missed Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. … Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn went down with a leg injury Thursday and sat out Saturday night's game. … Rangers forward Mike Rupp missed games Thursday and Saturday with a knee injury. …

Drew Doughty
Defense - LAK
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 7 | +/-: 0
Returning -- Los Angeles' top defenseman, Drew Doughty, returned Saturday after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury. … Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin returned Tuesday after missing five games with knee problems. … Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro (concussion) made his season debut Thursday in Pittsburgh the hard way -- he sat for 65 minutes but was called on to play in the shootout when Evgeni Nabokov had to leave with a lower-body problem. He made his first start of the season on Saturday. Isles defenseman Milan Jurcina (groin) played for the first time this season on Thursday night. … Winnipeg center Jim Slater returned Thursday from an upper-body injury. … Center Tim Connolly made his Leafs debut Thursday after sitting out three weeks with an upper-body injury. … Rangers defenseman Michael Sauer returned Thursday after missing five games with a shoulder injury. … Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid played Thursday after missing four games with head and neck injuries. … Nashville center Mike Fisher made his season debut Tuesday after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, played two games, then left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. Forward Martin Erat (upper body) came off IR and returned Saturday.

Still out -- Forward Mikael Samuelsson, acquired by Florida from Vancouver on Oct. 22, has yet to play for the Panthers due soreness related to his sports hernia surgery. He's not sure when he'll be able to suit up. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht is still out with the concussion that has kept him from suiting up this season. … Toronto put goaltender James Reimer on IR; the Leafs say he didn't suffer a concussion when he was hit by Brian Gionta on Oct. 22, but GM Brian Burke says his starting goaltender is being treated for "concussion-like symptoms." … Ottawa defenseman Matt Carkner (knee) is skating again but still not nearly ready to play in a game.

The week ahead -- It's a kind of odd week for a lot of teams. Nine clubs play only two games, though five clubs have four games -- including the Rangers, who have the unusual circumstance of playing four times at home in the same week.

Games to watch:

San Jose at New York Rangers (Oct. 31)
-- The Sharks spend Halloween in the Big Apple as they complete a six-game road trip. They've won just three times in 12 lifetime trips to New York.

Anaheim at Washington (Nov. 1) -- Versus will be on hand at the Verizon Center as the Caps return from Western Canada for a rare visit from the Ducks.

Vancouver at St. Louis (Nov. 4) -- The teams meet for the second time in nine days as the Blues come home after their second four-game road trip in the first month of the season.

Montreal at New York Rangers (Nov. 5) -- For just the second time in 47 years (and only the fifth since the Rangers entered the NHL in 1926), the Canadiens come to Madison Square Garden for a Saturday game.

Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (Nov. 5) -- The Penguins, making their second western trip of the season, visit the Staples Center for just the third time in nine years.

Tough week ahead:

Nashville Predators
-- The Predators hit the road again and make their second trip out West -- they start in Chicago before heading to Phoenix and San Jose.

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks begin their first long trip of the season in Calgary on Tuesday, then follow with stops in Minnesota, St. Louis and Chicago -- giving them four games in a six-day span.

Winnipeg Jets -- The Jets, who began a seven-game trip with Thursday's wild 9-8 win at Philadelphia, play four games away from MTS Centre this week. The good thing is that while they end the week with three games in four nights, the three games are all in the New York metropolitan area, which cuts down on travel.

Easy week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings
-- The Wings enjoy a week at home, with visits from Minnesota (the back end of a home-and-home), Calgary and Anaheim as part of a stretch in which they play seven of eight at Joe Louis Arena.

Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings have spent most of the first month of the season on the road -- on two continents -- so they'll welcome a week that offers only two games, both at home.

New York Islanders -- In contrast to the Kings, the Isles have spent most of the first month at home. They stay on Long Island this week, getting four days off before visits from Winnipeg on Thursday and Washington two nights later.
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