SUN Hockey Pool

Khabi boo-boo forgiven

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

It's interesting to watch players watch each other when calamity occurs.

It's absolutely fascinating when something resembling cataclysm, catastrophe or collapse happens to the big off-season signing in his first game as a member of the new team in the new town.

"My teammates were very supportive," reported Nikolai Khabibulin the morning after the nightmare before when the netminder on the verge of recording his 300th win made a Khabi boo-boo in trying to making a first impression in a new uniform.

"It was great to hear," said the 36-year-old Russian who wasn't exactly the 'First Tzar' of the game.

CLEAR A PUCK

He gave up a goal on his very first shot on goal and then went out to clear a puck with 49 seconds to play and essentially cleared it into his own net to lose 4-3.

He ended up with a .810 save percentage to start the first year of a four-year $15 million US contract.

"Nobody wants to have anything like that happen in the last minute of your first game," he said.

"The way it happens is not a very nice way to begin with a new team. I think it is the sign of a good team the way they supported me after the game and again this morning," he said of the off-ice conditioning and meetings session Pat Quinn held instead of an on-ice practice session.

Players look at how the new guy handles the adversity, especially if he's the goaltender, the last line of defence, the guy you want to be unflappable when everything is going wrong around him.

Especially this guy who comes with assorted reputations from the many stops in his career which went from being an engaging guy when he broke into the league in Winnipeg to a much more moody man, at times an island to himself, in some of his subsequent stops.

For the media, at times talking to the Bulin Wall has been like talking to a, well, the wall.

But his new teammates saw him step out of his equipment and face a media scrum after being singlehandedly responsible for turning a generally positive performance into a loss that lingers.

And yesterday he came out from the back of the state-of-the-art Oilers' dressing room to sit down for a one-on-one interview, the likes of which he refused to grant at any stage of the playoff series I covered last year between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks when he was playing spectacular in reducing Roberto Luongo to tears.

Here was a guy who went home and found a replay of the ghastly goal repeated over and over and over on any number of TV channels and up already on YouTube while being the subject of conversation in every bar in town.

He could have been rethinking the idea of signing on with the Oilers to complete his career in Canada.

"It was on all those TV places because everybody cares about hockey here," he said.

"In Canada every good play becomes a great play. And every mistake is magnified.

"I wouldn't say it's any easier but experience helps when something like this happens. Sometimes bad things happen.

"If something like that happens to you, obviously you'd like it to happen earlier in the game. I didn't have another shot after that.

"Mistakes happen for everybody. The next game after is important.

"Experience teaches you that good things can follow."

Coach Pat Quinn said he has the experience to know that can be true, too.

"The game before we won 35 in a row, we lost six or seven to nothing to Atlanta," said Quinn of coaching the Philadelphia Flyers on the record unbeaten streak in 1979.

Quinn says he doesn't have to go too far back in his career to find a comparable.

"The most recent was coaching Canada at the Spengler Cup. We'd outplayed the host team in the final game when we gave up two weak goals and our goaltender went out to handle the puck and something similar happened," he said of Justin Pogge.

THE BLAME GAME

Quinn wasn't any more happy with any of the goals which went behind Khabibulin in the opener, but other than the last one found others to blame including the penalty killing which opened the season 29th in the league.

"On the first goal a minute and a half into the game there were three mistakes made on the play," he said.

Quinn says everybody in the game has a story like the one Khabibulin has to tell about his first game as an Oiler.

"I've booted a few," he said of his playing days and spun a story about his worst "own goal" in a game when Cleveland was still in the league.

Quinn said he's not worried about his goalie letting one bad goal turn into something worse.

"He's a pro. He'll handle that."

Nice for Khabibulin to see the coach handle it, too.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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