Khabibulin gets a start

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:42 PM ET

In a year where all the rookies are turning heads with their training camp debuts, let’s not gloss over the significance of the oldest guy on the team making his first start.

Nikolai Khabibulin gets his first game of training camp, his first game since last November, actually, when he draws in Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks.

“I’m excited to play, maybe anxious a little bit,” said Khabibulin, who’s recovering from back surgery, the emotional pressure that came with an extreme DUI conviction in Scottsdale and 10 months worth of rust.

“I want to see where I’m at and what I need to keep working on.”

That they’ve waited nine days into training camp, and 11 days before the regular season, before giving their starter a look suggests he’s a little behind schedule, but the 37-year-old veteran says he’s getting sharper by the day.

“I feel good,” he said. “If anything I feel a little better, feeling the puck and everything.”

The coaching staff didn’t see any rush to get him in earlier.

“We’re really working him in the mornings, working on his positioning and movement,” said Tom Renney. “I wanted to wait till after (Thursday against Tampa).”

The injury itself, which knocked him out of the lineup last November after a 7-9-2 start (3.03 GAA and .909 save percentage) isn’t an issue, he said. He’s not feeling any twinges, nor any fear that the back will betray him again.

“Since I came here and got into practices I really haven’t felt anything, haven’t put any thought into it. It’s almost like I forgot about it. It feels pretty good. This is going to be a good test.”

Khabibulin, who still has three years left at $3.75 million a pop, needs to prove his durability, longevity and ability to cover up for all those rookie mistakes the Oilers can expect to see from all those new faces. But he’s not going to do it all in one pre-season game.

“I don’t want anybody to expect any rust, I don’t expect that from myself,” he said. “But as much as I would love to have a shutout, exhibition games are for a reason. You want to get used to game speeds again and traffic and see where you’re at.

“Whatever happens, whether it’s good or bad, I’m going to be patient with it and try to build one day at a time, try to get better every day,”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos