SUN Hockey Pool

Nik in tune

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:36 PM ET

As far as debuts go, they don't get much better.

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin turned aside all 18 shots he faced last night in a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers.

It was his first start in an Oilers' uniform since being signed as a free agent this summer.

SLOW NIGHT

"I felt alright out there, there wasn't much work for the first 10 or 12 minutes, or actually the first period," Khabibulin said. "It was nice to be out there and get back in a game setting with the fans and everything. It was good."

Khabibulin didn't get much work in the contest and, in fact, didn't see his first shot until the eight-minute mark of the opening frame. Even then it was one of only four he would face in the period. He saw six in the second and then nearly broke a sweat turning aside eight in the third.

"In a game like this when it's still preseason and you still are trying to work on things, the more shots you get the more of a game situation it is, and it's probably better," Khabibulin said. "At the same time, I thought we played pretty well. We were all over the puck and controlled the game for the whole time."

Heading into the season, expectations are high on the former Stanley Cup winner. He's replacing the Oilers' best player last season in Dwayne Roloson, having signed a four-year deal on the opening day of free agency.

A year ago, the native of Sverdlovsk, Ukraine, backstopped the upstart Chicago Blackhawks to the Western Conference final. This season the Oilers are banking on him to get them into the playoffs.

"Those of us that have watched him play, know that he's a high-quality goaltender," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. "He looks in control, he looks like he knows what he's doing and that always gives the guys out in front of him a sense of comfort.

"He didn't get a lot of work, but he was sharp when he had to do it, he handled the puck better than I thought and got out of trouble when he had to do it. It was a good start for him, I'm sure he'll feel the same way, any goaltender would like to start that way."

The Oilers had shared the goaltending duties through the first two preseason encounters. However, the plan was always in place to have Khabibulin play the entire game last night.

It's not sure whether he'll get another call this weekend as the Oilers travel to Vancouver today to face the Canucks and are in Saskatoon tomorrow for another game against the New York Islanders.

NEEDS POLISH

"I said I'd like to play the whole game, but it's up to the coaches," Khabibulin said. "I think it's nice to get a shutout, but I wouldn't put too much into it. It's just a preseason game and they didn't have a full lineup out there. There are definitely some things that I would like to polish a little bit more, but I think it was a pretty decent start."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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