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, lets 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.

Im excited to play, maybe anxious a little bit, said Khabibulin, whos 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 Im at and what I need to keep working on.

That theyve waited nine days into training camp, and 11 days before the regular season, before giving their starter a look suggests hes a little behind schedule, but the 37-year-old veteran says hes 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 didnt see any rush to get him in earlier.

Were 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) isnt an issue, he said. Hes not feeling any twinges, nor any fear that the back will betray him again.

Since I came here and got into practices I really havent felt anything, havent put any thought into it. Its 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 hes not going to do it all in one pre-season game.

I dont want anybody to expect any rust, I dont 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 youre at.

Whatever happens, whether its good or bad, Im 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


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