If they gave out an MVP award for the first eight games, Nikolai Khabibulin sealed it Monday night with another one of his all-too-familiar game-stealing performances.
It’s not even close. Despite being outshot worse than James Caan in Godfather, the Oilers are rolling along at a stellar 5-2-1 clip thanks in very large part to Khabibulin’s nightly larceny.
He put a five-finger discount on two more points yesterday, out-duelling Roberto Luongo in a 2-1 decision over the Vancouver Canucks.
“Khabby played great and kept us alive,” said Sam Gagner, whose third of the season stood up as the third period winner. “He’s a great calming presence, he makes the big saves when you need them. That’s what you need out of your goalies - to make timely saves and keep you alive in games. Hopefully we can continue to improve and continue to help him out.”
In their last five games the Oilers have been outshot 185-106 and went 4-1, outscoring the opposition 19-10.
Which begs the question ... is it a good thing that your goaltender can go out there and steal at least four of your five wins?
Or bad that your goaltender has to go out and steal at least four of your first five wins?
A little of both, if you ask the Oilers.
“In today’s game you need a guy who can keep you in and steal games,” said Mike Comrie. “We don’t want to make a habit of it, but he’s shown early on that we can count on him to win games. You need that.”
They got it on a night where he stopped 39 of 40 shots and had virtually no chance on the train wreck of a shift that led to Vancouver’s only goal.
Khabibulin’s been the difference on a lot of nights already, but says these things tend to even out over the course of a season.
“I know I’m not going to play (great) every game,” he said. “Sometimes it might be a 6-5 game. It works both ways, I think. At the end of the night, as long as we get two points, it doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Vancouver opened the scoring 6:32 into the first period because ... well, because they had no choice, really. The Oilers got hemmed in their own zone for what seemed like an eternity, whiffing on half a dozen chances to clear the zone and turning the puck over another half dozen more. Steve Bernier finally put the shift out of its misery by whacking in a rebound.
Patrick O’Sullivan tied it on a delayed penalty 26 seconds into the second period for the only goal of the middle frame. The golden touch that served Edmonton so well in the last few games wasn’t there last night. Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky each had breakaways in the second period and neither got a shot on net.
Gagner won it at 10:37 of the third, roofing a loose puck after a scramble in the Vancouver slot. He almost hit the roof himself after it went in
“I always feel great when I score especially in this league, it’s tough to get goals in,” he said. “And the way it came, put the team up in the third period of a divisional game, it’s obviously a great feeling.”
The Canucks tied it, but the goal slid in a split second after time ran out, making for some rather nervous moments while Toronto studied the video replay. The Oilers, who’ve already blown two games in the final seconds this year, shuddered at the thought of a third.
“I heard the horn, but it happened so quickly there was really no way of knowing,” said Khabibulin. “The guys came over and said 'No way, time had expired,’ but the way it was going for us ...”
LATE HITS ... Ryan Stone played just four shifts in the first period before leaving the game with a right knee injury. He left the building on crutches,