SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers keeping Khabby fresh

Nikolai Khabibulin warms up prior to Saturday's game against the Sharks at the HP Pavilion in San...

Nikolai Khabibulin warms up prior to Saturday's game against the Sharks at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. Jason O. Watson

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:29 AM ET

SAN JOSE - Nikolai Khabibulin emerged from under wraps Saturday, playing for the first time in eight days and ending speculation he was hiding an injury.

"I was ready to play in Phoenix but it was Tom's decision not to," said Khabibulin, who wasn't about to argue with his coach. "I don't get into that; he decides who's playing."

Renney said Khabibulin got run down last season and wants to make a determined effort to keep him as fresh as possible. Khabibulin admits last season got a little taxing, but it had more to do with the team he was playing for than the number of starts.

"I didn't play that many last year ... it just seems like a lot more when things are not going well," he said.

"When you're losing every game, or most of them, it's not as much fun to come to the rink. You still try to be professional about everything, it just takes a lot out of you.

"When things are going better, it seems easier."

At 38, he knows more attention must be paid to keeping his batteries charged, which shouldn't be difficult given he's one of the fittest players on the team.

"As you get older it takes a little bit more time to recover, the next day you feel a little bit more tired than 15 years ago, that's why I pay close attention to fitness in the summer."

POWER OUTAGE

Ales Hemsky admits not being on the first power-play unit is tough on the stats, not to mention the ego, but he says he's doing his best to make the most of it.

"Of course I'm frustrated, but I'm trying to stay positive and be a positive factor, keep working hard and trying to do my best for the team, whatever position I'm in, whatever line I'll be on," he said.

Right now the kids Ñ Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are getting premium ice with the man advantage, a coaching decision Hemsky can't argue with.

"They're scoring goals on the power play," he said. "I'm not in the situation I was in before and it's hard, but they're playing great on the power play and they have lots of points, they carry our power play this year."

Hemsky hasn't lost his sense of humour, though. When told that Renney doesn't like his stick, No. 83 replied: "I don't like his stick either, so we have that in common... and I don't like his skates, too."

EDGE TO MINNY

The off-season trades between Minnesota and San Jose are leaning toward the State of Hockey right now.

Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have nine and eight goals for the first place Wild, while Martin Havlat has two goals for the eighth-place Sharks. Brent Burns has been decent on defence, though ...

Former Oilers defenceman Jim Vandermeer is out with a broken thumb and didn't get to play his old team, but he's not too torn up about it, since he won't have to wait long for another opportunity. "I have six old teams," said the well-travelled blue-liner.

DOWN AND AWAY

The difference in numbers between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at home and on the road are glaring.

He is second in the NHL in points at home with 24 (and a plus-nine rating) and 11th in the league on the road (with nine points and a minus-8 rating).

"Teams look at him and circle his number and he's a young fella playing against big strong men most nights on the road," said Renney, who can't get him the same, favourable line match ups on the road that he does at home, and sometimes sits him for too long waiting for one.

"To try to get that match up and free him can also kind of consume you as a coach and take momentum and emotion out of your bench so you have to be careful with that as well."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@Sun_TYCHKOWSKI 


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