SUN Hockey Pool

No rust on 'Bulin wall

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

EDMONTON - Nikolai Khabibulin didn’t look like someone who’s been out for nearly 11 months and has the weight of a court conviction hanging over him.

On Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers goaltender was excellent in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place.

Khabibulin turned away 37 shots to earn his first win for the team since Nov. 8 of last year and his first shutout as an Oiler.

“It’s obviously nice to start that way, but it’s just one game,” said Khabibulin. “I didn’t think I felt great in the first period. My legs felt kind of heavy, but then I got into it a little bit.

“I thought we played as good as we could play. We skated pretty well and we limited their chances.”

Khabibulin’s performance was overshadowed by that of the Oilers wonder kids, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle who stole the show in the victory.

Hall was all over the ice in the first two periods and had a handful of quality chances to collect his first NHL goal. Eberle nearly brought the house down in the third with a highlight-reel goal to double the Oilers lead, then appeared to score another on the power play, which was later awarded to Shawn Horcoff.

The entire night was punctuated by Steve MacIntyre, who knocked out Flames enforcer Raitis Ivanans late in the contest with a devastating right hook.

Regardless, Khabibulin did what the Oilers had expected of him when they signed the former Stanley Cup winner to a four-year $15-million deal last off-season.

He was strong in all facets of the game, making the required first save and keeping rebounds to a minimum.

“I think they had a lot of shots in the second period, but we were able to block a lot of shots,” Khabibulin said. “We were able to push them to the outside and limit the scoring opportunities. It’s a lot of shots, but if you don’t give up too many good chances, every goalie in the league is going to be able to make those saves. The guys played hard in front of me.”

Last season, Khabibulin lasted just 18 games before a back injury, that required surgery, brought a premature end to his season.

It was the beginning of the end for the Oilers, who saw the bottom fall out of their season and went on to finish last in the overall standings for the first time in team history.

This year Khabibulin was healthy coming into camp and was being counted on to backstop a young club built with an eye towards the future with talented rookies Hall, Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi coming into the fold.

“As a team we played very hard and as good as game as we can probably play,” Khabibulin said.

“The young kids played well. They were responsible defensively and when they had chances they scored.

“It was a pretty good effort.”


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