EDMONTON - So now the fickle fingers find Nikolai Khabibulin?
Is the Bulin Wall coming down?
Will he ever win a game again?
His streak is now at nine. Nine straight games when his second reference nickname, The Nyetminder, meant something entirely different than when he first earned it.
When things are going as bad as they’re going for the Edmonton Oilers, there’s always more than one negative to go around.
The good news is that the power play outage is over! The bad news is that Khabibulin managed to lose again.
After 144 consecutive failed power play opportunities, Magnus Paajarvi scored late in what would otherwise have been the 12th consecutive game without a power play goal for the Edmonton Oilers.
But it was the two the Minnesota Wild got early which resulted in a 4-1 loss for the Oilers last night.
While most of the morning skate brigade expected Devan Dubnyk to start his third game in the last four because he was first off the ice, it turned out he was off early because he didn’t feel well. He ended up returning to Rexall Place for the game but spent the night in the dressing room with no goaltender on the bench.
Khabibulin wasn’t feeling much better when he gave up two goals on the first four shots to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-0 lead 3:25 into the game. That’s almost always game over for the Oilers against the Wild.
“We didn’t have a good start,” said the 38-year-old.
“It’s hard giving teams two goals early like that.”
It was the 30th start of the season for the Russian netminder who is on the second year of a four-year deal at $3.5 million a year.
His record is now 8-20-2.
Khabibulin’s last win was Dec. 16 against the Columbus Blue Jackets here.
In addition to the nine-game skid, he had a pair of four-game losing streaks earlier this year.
Taking his pads off quietly when the media entered the dressing room in search of others on this night when the Oilers lost Ales Hemsky with a suspected concussion possibly received in an earlier game, Khabibulin said he had no idea if this is the worst losing streak of his career which sits at 314-296-58 this morning.
“I’m sure it’s happened that it’s been close to something like this before,” he said.
He said when you’re a goaltender it’s hard not to take this home with you.
“I always take it personally,” he said.
“I always point the finger at myself. I always look back at things after the game and look at things I could do better.
“It’s not fun losing, for sure. Its hard to say sometimes why things go like they go as a goalie.
Sometimes it feels like the puck is just hitting you no matter what you do, when you don’t even do anything for it. And other times it seems like it finds a way to go in, that it finds the smallest of holes.
“The only thing to do is keep trying and trying,” he said.
He was speaking of himself, but said that pretty much goes for everybody wearing an Oiler uniform right now as they nose dive toward 30th place where the New Jersey Devils appear willing to vacate the basement for last year’s tenant to move back in.
“Every streak has an answer,” he said.
“We’ve got to start winning. And to start winning we have to stop doing some of the things we’re doing and start to do the right things for the whole game. We’ve got to work together. The worst thing you can do is point fingers at each other. You have to support each other and trust each other.”
There are those pointing fingers his way already, suggesting that when GM Steve Tambellini signed him to a four-year contract, he was taking a chance on Khabibulin’s expiry date coming along about now.
He hasn’t had many passing grades the last month and more on most people’s cards. But on the other hand, look at everything going on around him.
“I think he’s a bit of the victim of circumstance,” said coach Tom Renney after the latest adventure in which he gave up four of 26 shots to bring his season numbers down from the 3.46 goals against average and .894 save percentage he took into the game.
“We’ve left him a little bit on his own.
“Like the rest of us, I think he could be sharper.
“But he has a lot of weight on his shoulders to help a young team find wins.
“There are going to be nights when it’s tough on him as well. The body of work for the season, I think, is very good. But I think like anybody else on our roster, he has had moments when he would have liked to have been better.”