|Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin is in the middle of a scrum after tripping and punching Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil during Saturday's 5-3 loss at Rexall Place. (CODIE McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - Nikolai Khabibulin was almost at a loss for words.
Heading in against the Ottawa Senators, and a goaltender who had not won a game since Boxing Day, the stage seemed set for the Edmonton Oilers puck stopper to snap a 13-game losing skid. But neither Khabibulin, nor the Edmonton Oilers were able to rebound completely after giving up two goals on the first two shots in a 5-3 defeat on Saturday. The loss extended Khabibulin's personal run of futility to 14 games.
"This has been frustrating for a while now," said Khabibulin. "It doesn't really matter who you play, a loss is a loss. They (Senators) are an NHL team, too, and they want to win. But when you play in your own building you hope to win a game."
Khabibulin has not won since Dec. 16 and it's starting to wear on him.
He got off to a rough start as Senators rookie Bobby Butler snapped a shot past him and defenceman Jeff Petry appeared to bat a rebound into his own net to give the Senators a pair of first-period goals.
He finished the game giving up four goals on 24 shots.
"It definitely wasn't the start I was looking for," Khabibulin said. "Getting scored on the first two shots is definitely a challenge to fight through, but I tried my best to do it."
Things might have been different had the Oilers goaltender had some help in front of him.
Yet his club never seemed to be able to find their legs in the rare afternoon start, managing just 18 shots in the direction of Senators' goaltender Brian Elliott, who with the victory, snapped a 13-game losing skid of his own.
"I think Khabby had a rough start (Saturday), but he recovered from that, which a lot of goalies may not have," said Oilers associate coach Ralph Krueger. "He actually made some good saves on the penalty kill to bring us into the last period tied 2-2."
Khabibulin's frustration boiled over in the second period when he tripped Chris Neil in the crease, then punched the Senators' forward in the back of the head, taking a pair of minor penalties on the play.
"I thought I got elbowed a little bit and kind of snapped," Khabibulin said. "I actually didn't mind that because I was pretty fired up after that. It actually worked out well."
Unfortunately for the Oilers, they were unable to take the momentum earned from killing off the four-minute penalty.
Milan Michalek and Peter Regin scored in the third, while Kovalev scored on an empty net to seal the victory.
"I think this is something he (Khabibulin) hasn't encountered before," said Dustin Penner, who scored a pair of goals for the Oilers. "Last year he missed what we went through as a team because of his back. I think from a personal standpoint, it's nothing against him, we just haven't been good when he's been in the net.
"Barring a few unlucky breaks, if I was playing net, I'd want to stop the first 10 as opposed to the last 10. No matter how they go in, whether they're great goals or unlucky, letting in the first two shots is tough for anybody to deal with, especially considering the circumstances. But he's an old pro and he will bounce back, he's very strong mentally."