SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers lean on the Wall

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:24 AM ET

CAROLINA — It’s not very often you see an MVP with a 4-6-1 record and a 3.10 save percentage, but it’s scary to think where the Edmonton Oilers might be this year without Nikolai Khabibulin.

Probably where they were last year without him.

Last.

The Russian netminder, despite a back injury, turbulent off-season and criticism about the length and value of his contract, has been a saving grace so far — keeping the Oilers alive when they should be dead and buried, stealing points when they should be going home empty-handed.

“He was huge, that game could have gone the other way, we all know that,” said Tom Renney, who watched Khabibulin keep it 1-0 in Chicago, under intense pressure, long enough for Edmonton to escape with a 2-1 win. “At the end of the day the best teams in the league have great goaltending, goaltending at critical times.”

And fledgling teams that hope to be great one day need it even more. Having faith in the man in the crease enables everyone else on the team to play without being afraid that every mistake they make will have to be fished out of their net. He’s crucial in the development of a young team.

“He was big for us when we needed him,” said Renney. “It’s good for our confidence, just the way he handles the game in general. The way we’re playing right now it’s so important, it brings such a level to our game, it allows us to continue to grow.”

“We kind of need him to play at that level, to be honest,” said Ales Hemsky. “And every night he’s standing on his head.”

The 37-year-old is glad to be of assistance.

“It was a good feeling, especially coming into a building like Chicago against the Stanley Cup champions and getting two points,” he said. “We were close a couple of games before that, one-goal games, against very good teams as well. I guess finally we got a little bit of the reward.”

He’s been on the sports shows a lot lately, making some circus saves in the last couple of games, but has mixed emotions about a few of them.

“If that happens it’s usually because I didn’t do something right before that,” he said. “I don’t like to be out of position too much but during a game, but just try and stop the puck whatever it takes.”

And they do look pretty cool.

“It was a couple of lucky saves,” he shrugged. “But whatever works, I guess. It’s a good feeling when you can make a save like that when nobody expects it.”

LATE HITS: The Oilers, who didn’t practice Monday, didn’t update Shawn Horcoff’s situation, nor say whether they’re going to call somebody up if he can’t play. Horcoff took a knee in the thigh and was limping badly after the game. They’re listing him as day-to-day.

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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