Well it’s December and a slight chill is starting to fill the air. Christmas season is upon us and two months of the NHL season are in the books. It is also about this time that GMs and coaches start to realize just what identity their team has and where they may sit in terms of competing for a future playoff spot and beyond.
It has been an up-and-down ride for the Oilers during the past couple weeks. Good performances have been followed by poor ones and vice versa. After a hot start to their season, the Oilers are starting to level off and are showing signs of still being a very young lineup trying to find its way.
The Oilers stumble into this week’s edition of the ‘The Progress Report’ having lost three straight and having slipped to third in the Northwest division. With a record of 12-10-2, the Oilers are now six points behind the division leading Minnesota Wild and are battling their share of injuries.
|The 'Bulin Wall' has 9 wins this year while having only 10 all of last season. |
So what are the positives? What might the Oilers and their fans have reason to be happy for? The answer to this is quite simply... Nikolai Khabibulin
. The Oilers despite all the momentum swings this year have enjoyed consistently great play from their starting netminder.
Khabibulin has turned around his game this season and no one is happier then the Oilers organization. Given a substantial contract a few seasons ago, the time in Edmonton has not always been so kind to Khabibulin.
The 38-year-old goalie has struggled the past couple seasons in Oil Country. In 47 games last season, Khabibulin posted just a 10-32-4 record to go along with a 3.40 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. In fact, Khabibulin had just a 17-41-6 record overall in his time in Edmonton prior to the start of this season.
Well what a difference a year can make. Entering tonight’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nikolai Khabibulin
has a record of 9-5-3. He is sporting a sensational 1.88 goals-against average, good for third in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 10 starts. On top of that he also has a .935 save percentage, ranking him fourth in the league in that category.
Statistically the turn around is extreme, but his fellow teammates never had a doubt about Khabby’s ability between the pipes.
“He’s been great in this league for a long time, we always knew what he was capable of,” said Shawn Horcoff
Khabibulin’s strong play has also got the attention of his coach. Prior to the season there was some question as to how many games Khabibulin would start, if there might be closer to a 50/50 split in the goaltending duties.
Well with 17 games already under his belt, head coach Tom Renney has full confidence in his starting goalie and sees him as a huge factor in any success the Oilers have had thus far.
|Khabibulin's play has been strong since day 1 of the 2011-2012 season. |
“He’s been great, said Renney. He has given us a chance to win all year, sometimes we have even relied too much on Khabby, he’s been that good.”
While the numbers already tell the tale, perhaps the most impressive part of Khabibulin’s play this year has been the calming effect he’s had on his team. The netminder has not waivered one bit, spreading a confidence that a young team like this so desperately needs.
Anyone who may have thought Khabibulin’s hot start was a direct result of his team’s hot start may now be singing a different tune.
Khabibulin’s play and stats have continued to be great despite the outcome in the game and in some cases, despite of the play in front of him. Khabibulin has been one of the constants for the 2011-2012 Oilers, something that doesn’t surprise the veteran one bit.
“I never worried too much, I know my game and I’m just happy to help the team win this year,” explained Khabibulin.
While there is lots of hockey left to be played this season, if there is one sign of progress that stands out over the past couple years, it has to be the stability between the pipes.
As we head full on into the holiday season, Oilers fans can surely be ‘Khabby’ for the goaltending they are getting.