EDMONTON - Nikolai Khabibulin has had his share of unfortunate bounces this season, but is hoping the bad luck ends at 13.
The Edmonton Oilers goaltender is expected to get the call Saturday against the Ottawa Senators and will be going in looking to snap a 13-game losing skid.
“Hopefully, (Saturday) is the day,” said Khabibulin. “I’d like to think that I’m experienced enough that I can battle through this, but I’m not going to lie, when you don’t win for so long, it’s in the back of your mind. But I’ve tried to block it out and am trying not to think about it.”
Khabibulin has not won a game since making 37 saves in a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, at home, on Dec. 17.
He came close to snapping his losing skid, incidentally, against the Blue Jackets last Friday, but gave up two third-period goals in a 4-3 loss.
“Like any player, you want to do anything you can to help the team win a game, it’s no different being a goaltender,” Khabibulin said. “You want to go out and play your best and give your team a chance to win.
“This hasn’t been easy. I’ve had some tough stretches in the past, but this seems to be the longest one. Hopefully when it’s done, it’s done and it’ll make me a better goaltender for the future.”
Heading into the contest against the Senators, Khabibulin, 38, has an 8-24-2 record with a 3.46 goals against average and .891 save percentage.
Ironically, he may be going up against Senators goaltender Brian Elliott, who is on a 13-game losing skid of his own.
“There is no question the team wants to get a win for him,” said Oilers associate coach Ralph Krueger. “He’s been the one speaking about it, and he’s actually thinking about it more than anybody else here. I don’t think the rest of the group is really that conscience of it (losing skid). We recognize the fact that we want to win games on a regular basis and we’re not doing it, but we haven’t been as cognizant of who’s been in net. I think Khabby has been more vocal about that, and we want to get that cleared up for him.”
Currently in the second of a four-year deal with the Oilers, Khabibulin was expected to provide veteran stability in goal on an otherwise youthful club.
And while he hasn’t played poorly, he has been unable to steal a game for the team the way he did at the beginning of last season.
“I think there hasn’t been a big problem with my play or my positioning or anything like that,” Khabibulin said. “I think it’s just a little thing here or a little thing there. I think sometimes it might be a case of over-reacting a little bit and not letting the game come to me.”
Despite the length of the skid, Khabibulin is trying not to focus on what he could have done differently in order avoid his current predicament.
The opportunity still exists for him to turn things around although he’ll now be sharing the bulk of the starts with Devan Dubnyk.
“You can think about it and say you should have done something else, but in reality, you cannot get it back,” Khabibulin said. “You analyze it after the game, then it’s over and you have to get ready for the next one. I can’t be sitting at home wondering about the last 13 games and wondering what I should have done differently. If you do that, it’s going to keep snowballing. I just have to try to stop that and play through it.”
Either way, it’s been frustrating for the former Stanley Cup winner.
Khabibulin was hoping for a strong season after missing the majority of last year with a back injury.
“One way I’m happy because I’m playing and am not injured,” he said. “But when you play, you expect to win and when you’re not winning, I can be pretty hard on myself. In that regard, it hasn’t been as much fun as I would have liked it to be, but it’s still something I love to do and I know it’s going to end at some point.”