Khabibulin shows 'em how it's done
Veteran saves the kids this time
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
|Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin reaches down to stop the puck in front of Canadiens forward Petteri Nokelainen at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Que., Nov. 8, 2011. (RICHARD WOLOWICZ/Getty Images/AFP)
MONTREAL - A lot of people might have showed up at the Bell Centre for a look at the 6/49 lottery that is the Edmonton Oilers with all their top draft picks, but it was the old dude in the nets that was the difference.
Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, beat the Canadiens 3-1 Tuesday night despite Edmonton firing just 14 shots.
These are two teams that taking different approaches to team building -- the Habs remaking their team a couple of summers ago through free agency and the Oilers through the draft -- but one of the oldest truths about hockey held sway: whoever has the best goaltender usually wins.
It’s tough when a goalie gives up only a goal and sees his goals against average go up. Khabibulin's GAA was at 0.98 going into the game.
The Oilers are one of the good stories in the NHL so far -- they are 9-3-2 now -- and the Canadiens are one of the befuddling ones.
Are the Habs as bad as their 5-7-2 record indicates?
The good news is after a slow start, winger Erik Cole, Montreal's big free agent signing this summer, was the Canadiens' best player on the night. Khabibulin had four memorable stops on Cole, who, after a slow start, has found his legs and is giving the Canadiens the power-forward threat they have long lacked up front. Cole also set up Mike Cammalleri for a great chance (Cammalleri also hit a post), but Khabibulin wasn’t yielding.
The Canadiens power play, long the gravy on their poutine, was 0-for-6 on the night and is just 1-for-10 in the last three games.
“I thought we did a lot of things well. I don’t think there’s much for the guys to hang their heads about,” said Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, who also had five of the Habs' 29 shots on the night. “You look at teams around the league and there are times when the power play doesn’t go the way you want it to go.”
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price gave his club a chance to win. He was beaten only on a short-handed breakaway by Edmonton’s Randy Jones at 4:38 of the second period and a shot from Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert that went off the foot of Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges with just four minutes left in the game.
Montreal’s Max Pacioretty had his backhander go in off Gilbert’s stick shortly after to make it a one-goal game.
Having won four in a row after the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn, the Habs have now lost two in a row. The big issue is getting more of a consistent effort from a bigger number of forwards on a given night. Anybody see captain Brian Gionta Tuesday night?
It was a pretty quiet night for the Edmonton's Kid Line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. The only time they were really noticeable through the first two periods was when Nugent-Hopkins coughed up the puck a couple of times outside his blueline late in the second period (he scrambled back to lift the stick of Montreal’s Lars Eller -- funny how the guy who turned it over gets fast, eh?) and Khabibulin came up with a stop on Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec on that one.
The line did come up with a dominating shift with six minutes to go, hemming the Habs in their zone, leading to some bleating from the Montreal fans.
One Oilers veteran said the kids were complaining they had all that pressure and didn’t score, not realizing that having that kind of shift at that point in a one-goal game is almost as valuable as scoring a goal.
“You’ve got to put them in position to have success and sometimes you just have to look through your fingers and just let them fall off the bike and just let that pain be a teacher because at the end of the day, they are accountable to themselves, but they’re also accountable to their teammates.”
Nugent-Hopkins fell off the bike and Renney was looking through his fingers a couple of times Tuesday night, but the outcome, as it has been surprisingly often for the Oilers, was a good one.
It doesn’t hurt when the kids can make a mistake and have the old guy back there to cover up the mistakes.