EDMONTON - Nikolai Khabibulin will make his second start of the season tonight as the Oilers go head-to-head with the Los Angeles Kings at Rexall Place.
The 40-year-old veteran has been stellar in two appearances this season, allowing only three goals on 47 shots (1.84 goals-against average and .936 save percentage). Devan Dubnyk was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots Saturday night vs. Colorado.
"Any athlete wants to play," said Khabibulin. "Nobody wants to practice all the time and I'm the same way. Devan was playing really, really well and the team was doing well, too, so you have to be patient and look at things positively. In my case, it gave me a little more time to practice and be with the guys on the ice.
"You have to take at what's given to you. I don't want to look too far ahead to how many starts I may or may not get in the future, either. All I know is that I'm starting tonight and it's my goal to go out, have a good game and hopefully get the win."
"From the start (on Saturday) we needed him to come in and bring energy," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "I think you had to have been in the building on Saturday to understand that decision. It's not against Dubnyk in any way, shape or form. We're very happy with the season he's had to this point."
In other lineup news, Monday's line combinations did not stay intact at the morning skate. Teemu Hartikainen will play and be back in his regular post alongside Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. There will be no other changes to the roster since Monday's practice. Lennart Petrell, who's still day-to-day with a head injury, will not dress. The Kings come into Rexall Place after losing 3-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Hockey Day in America. As a result, Krueger expects an angry opponent.
"We know [Los Angeles is] going to come in here heavy and hard," he said. "They're going to come in here remembering our last meeting, but also what happened (Sunday) in Chicago. They're an experienced, grumpy team."
The underperforming Kings sit 14th in the NHL's Western Conference with a 5-6-2 record (12 points); 2010 Norris Trophy-candidate, Drew Doughty, one of the NHL's premiere defencemen, holds a League-worst -11 rating; ex-Oiler Dustin Penner, who stepped up with three goals and 11 points during the Kings' Stanley Cup run nine months ago, has been a healthy scratch in seven of 13 games this season, recording but a single assist in the six he's dressed in.
Still, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle will surely get a healthy dose of Doughty, who far and away leads the Kings with an average ice time of 27:11 this season.
"We always appreciate going up against the best players," said Hall, the Oilers' leading-scorer with four goals and 15 points. "That's how it is in this League and we always know that we're going to have to do it well. We're getting a lot of minutes right now and when you have those kinds of minutes, you have to produce. You have to be pretty good in your own end and I think we've done that. Every night in this League as we get older and as we play more games, we realize that we're going to be playing against the best players and the best competition and we relish that."
Chances are Doughty does, too. In No. 4's rookie season, the Kings defenceman railroaded Hall with a vicious (but clean) hit that caused quite an uproar. Ever since, a rivalry between the two has been brewing.
Scoring just 29 goals in 13 games, the Kings are one of the League's lowest-scoring teams -- the same problem that plagued the 2011-12 edition, which lost a litany of one-goal games and snuck into the playoffs as the West's eighth seed.
It seems silly, doesn't it? Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne -- all big names that have had vanilla starts are getting little in the way of offensive support.
Even Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Jonathan Quick hasn't been spectacular, posting a 3-5-2 record, 2.74 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in 11 appearances.
There hasn't been a whole lot to cheer about in La La Land this season. The defending Cup Champions look like anything but a team poised to repeat. But it's that experience, that grumpiness, that "makes them dangerous."
"They don't like where they are in the standings, I don't think they like what happened on Sunday in the Chicago game," said Krueger. "That's what I would be angry about and I'm sure they are, too."
In their first and only meeting of the season back on Jan. 24, Nail Yakupov scored with 4.7 seconds left to tie it, while Sam Gagner did the rest in overtime to secure a 2-1 win for the Oilers at Rexall Place.
Remember Yakupov's celebration? The Kings might.
"I think everyone does," laughed Hall. "It's one of those seasons where you play the same teams over and over again and there's not a lot of time in between games, so it's not easily forgettable. I'm not sure if they're going to try and go after Nail or anything like that. We know that they're a team that's not doing as well as they want to and when you face a team that won the Cup, you always have to be prepared for their 'A' game."
"Guys, it happened like two months ago," added Yakupov, brushing it off. "It will be a different game today. We have to play for two points and that's it. [The Kings] should be playing for the win and shouldn't be focused on that, so I don't think there will be a (reaction)."
On the heels of their highest-scoring game of the season, a 6-4 come-from-behind effort over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night, the orange and blue are hoping the goals will come more regularly now that the method -- shots, shots and more shots -- has been perfected.
"That was a goal for our team," said Hall. "After that game in Columbus when we had 14 shots, I think everyone had it in their head to get more shots on net and generate more second chances. When you're playing in their end, you're creating power-plays and overall offence for your team. It really started to click on Saturday and were rewarded with a couple goals.
"Who knows?" Hall added of breaking the single-game shots on goal record with 56 vs. Colorado. "We're going to try and surpass it again this year."
If the Kings are in need of something to clutch to, it's that they've been quite successful at Rexall Place in recent seasons (7-0-2), with their last regulation loss coming way back on Feb. 28, 2008.
Season series: This is the second of three meetings. Nail Yakupov scored with 4.7 seconds left to send the first matchup to overtime, where Sam Gagner converted for a 2-1 Oilers win on Jan. 24 at Rexall Place.
Big story: Two of the National Hockey League's lowest-scoring teams will face off Tuesday in Edmonton, but only one is coming off its best offensive outing of the season. Edmonton scored six goals to beat Colorado on Saturday – including five unanswered to end the game – and will look to continue that trend against the under-performing, defending Stanley Cup champions.
Kings: Los Angeles has struggled even more than usual to score so far this season. One of two teams yet to score 30 goals, the Kings are fourth-worst in the NHL with a 2.23 goals-per-game average. Los Angeles lost 3-2 to Chicago on Sunday, bringing its record to 1-5-2 when scoring two or fewer goals. Mike Richards scored two power-play goals in the third period, but the Kings were unable to complete the comeback.
"(It's) not the way you want to start a season, obviously," said Richards. "We've had some ups and downs. We've played some really good games, and some poor games, so we have to try and find that consistency on a daily basis. It's got to come soon."
Oilers: Heading into Saturday, the young Oilers had similar scoring issues, managing more than two goals only once in their last eight games. Things looked headed down a similar path against the Avalanche, who jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in the second period. Then, something clicked as the Oilers got five goals from five different players on their way to a 6-4 win. Edmonton ended the game with 56 shots, a deluge compared to their 26.9 season average.
"If anything, it gives our team a little confidence with our goal scoring," said Jordan Eberle. "We haven't been able to put the puck in the net and, especially my line, it felt like we cracked the door open in this game."
Who's hot: Richards has three goals in his past two games. … Edmonton's power play scored twice on four chances Saturday after going 3-for-31 in the previous seven games.