SUN Hockey Pool

Khabibulin still kryptonite?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

CALGARY -- The terrific thing about the Edmonton Oilers acquiring Nikolai Khabibulin was that he was Calgary Kryptonite.

He was the Flame Extinguisher.

Dating back to his days with the Winnipeg Jets, he was 22-5-2 in the regular season against the Calgary Flames.

Now he's 22-8-2.

When he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Russian nyet minder defeated the Flames in the Stanley Cup final.

As a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, he beat them in a playoff series last spring.

But as an Oiler, Khabibulin is already down three games to none against Calgary in the season series.

What happened to the magic?

What happened to the force?

It started with one of the all-time great gaffes in terms of making a first impression when the 'Bulin Wall crumbled in an attempt to clear a puck, essentially scoring an own goal with 49 seconds to play in the 4-3 season-opening loss to Calgary.

Then, with the game won, he gave up a goal with 1.5 seconds remaining to send the next encounter against Calgary to overtime -- and another 4-3 loss.

Which brings us to last night. A 5-2 loss in his first game as an Oiler in the Saddledome.

The all-time first Tsar against Calgary has given up 13 goals in three straight losses to the Flames.

"You can't expect an easy result and a win just because you've had the results in the past," the 36-year-old said afterwards..

"I could probably have played a little better, I guess."

The guy did have to face 38 shots, with Denis Grebishkov and Tom Gilbert manufacturing mistake after mistake in front of him and the Oilers going completely away from the complete game they played in Thursday's win over Columbus.

You lose three games in the first three weeks of the season to the Calgary Flames and it throws a little water on the fire the Oilers had building.

Which begs the question: If you have three tries to beat Calgary and lose all three, how good are you?

When Darryl Sutter took over as coach of the Flames, he told his team it all started with Edmonton. Beat Edmonton and it would all fall into place from there.

Win the games against the Oilers and you'll make the playoffs.

"In the first two games against Calgary I thought we played well," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn.

"But tonight we quit playing. We abandoned our game plan. When they scored those two quick goals in the second period, we became easy to play against."

What happened last night wasn't anywhere near the blow to the sports ego of the city as that empty effort by the Edmonton Eskimos the night before in McMahon Stadium - although a loss by the Eskimos to the Stampeders, a loss by the Oilers to the Flames and two losses by the Oil Kings to the Hitmen made it a lost weekend.

Good things continued to happen here last night.

Dustin Penner scored his eighth goal of the season. Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner each drew a pair of assists.

For the 20-year-old Gagner, they were his 99th and 100th points as an Oiler.

And Edmonton was without Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, Gilbert Brule, Fernando Pisani and Mike Comrie.

"Once you give somebody excuses, everybody latches on to them," said Quinn.

"We came here to get two points and if we'd stuck to the game plan we might have got two points. Instead, we started to play solo hockey."

The Oilers still finished their first 10 games of the season at 6-3-1, equalling their best record since 1985-86, when they went 8-2 and rolled to a 56-17-7 record before Steve Smith scored on his own net to give Calgary Game 7 in the playoffs and interrupt what would have turned out to be a five-in-a-row run.

On the other hand, the last time the Oilers were 6-3-1 was 2001-02.

They missed the playoffs that year.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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