How much Khabibulin?

Jonathan Willis
March 21 2013 04:39PM

Head coach Ralph Krueger revealed last night that Nikolai Khabibulin is nearly back at 100 percent, making the veteran goaltender an option to get starts in net. How much should the Oilers use Khabibulin?

This is what Krueger said in response to a question asking whether Khabibulin was an option to start Saturday against the St. Louis Blues:

We’re going to re-evaluate the lineup after every game and we’ll take a look at it. For us, we feel that Nikolai is now very close to 100%. We already had him in the lineup where he wasn’t quite there… and Nik, we’ll need him. If you look at the games that are left we have got 18 in 33 and we’re going to need everybody here.

In short, for the first time since Khabibulin was injured, the coach has another legitimate option in net. And given the schedule, it’s an option he’s going to use.

To answer the question in the title, two things need to be established:

  • What is the difference in performance between Khabibulin and Dubnyk?
  • If there is a significant gap, how often can the Oilers get away with using the better of the two?

Which is Better?

Looking at just this season, the advantage would seem to be in Khabibulin’s favour – in five games he has a 0.935 save percentage, to Dubnyk’s 0.918 save percentage over 25 games. But goalies are fickle; their performance goes up and down, and it’s important to look at long-term track record when evaluating them.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, Khabibulin has been a 0.903 save percentage goalie; Dubnyk is a career 0.912 save percentage goalie. Additionally, Khabibulin has gotten older; Dubnyk’s save percentage includes a chunk from 2010-11 which is well below everything he’s done since that point. Reflecting on that gap, Tyler Dellow wrote this back in February:

I can’t say that Dubnyk would have stopped the Kings winning goal on Tuesday night or that he wouldn’t have let in some other goal. It’s unknowable. The flipside of this is that nobody can say that Dubnyk wouldn’t. Personally, I thought it was a bit of a stinky goal – yes, it was tipped, but Khabibulin had holes open that made him vulnerable – but the extra one goal per hundred that Khabby lets in isn’t going to necessarily look bad. What I do know is that, like clockwork, Khabibulin will let in that extra goal every 100 shots. In fact, over the last three years, it’s been an extra 1.5 goals per 100 shots. In a league like the NHL, where most goals are Big Goals (h/t Matt Fenwick) because most games are close games, odds are that it’s going to cost you at some point and, if you play him more than is absolutely necessary, you’re just piling on the risk. The Oilers made the lower percentage bet and then they lost the game.

I don’t like using wins and losses to judge goaltenders as a rule, but when they play on the same team and the sample is long enough, they can illustrate a point. Both Khabibulin and Dubnyk have played more than 100 games for the Oilers; with Khabibulin the team is 31-63-14 while with Dubnyk they’re 44-52-19. Dubnyk’s the superior option, and it isn’t close.

How often should a team use their backup?

Dellow did some digging on this front, too. The whole post is here, but basically what he found is that over a stretch of 48 games where there’s a clear cut difference between number one and the backup, number one picked up 39-40 starts while the backup started eight or nine games, with more than half of those coming in back-to-back situations.

With 19 games left, that works out to 15-16 starts for Dubnyk and three to four for Khabibulin. The following is the Oilers’ remaining schedule, with back-to-back games in bold:

“Competitor” refers to games where the other team is a clear threat to an Oilers’ post-season berth. There aren’t a lot of those games left, and none of them are against Detroit and San Jose – the two teams most likely to be bumped out of their current spot.

Barring something we don’t know about – a nagging injury to Dubnyk, trade interest in Khabibulin, a sudden decision to tank, etc. – it makes sense to me to start Khabibulin Mar. 26 vs. St Louis, Apr. 4 vs. Vancouver, Apr. 21 vs. Anaheim and Apr. 27 vs. Vancouver. The plan should be for every other start, including all seven against teams that could theoretically vie with Edmonton for a post-season berth, should go to Dubnyk. The plan can change if the Oilers fall out of playoff contention, but otherwise that seems the most sensible approach.

And with three days between Wednesday night’s loss to San Jose and the Oilers’ Saturday game against St. Louis, Dubnyk should certainly get the start there too.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Serious Gord
March 21 2013, 04:44PM
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The second of every back to back or once every seven days whichever comes first. That would add up to five, may e six games.

That also assumes that KB can stay healthy for even that long...

And then 'sayonara'

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#2 Jay
March 21 2013, 05:00PM
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Are we ever going to have a legitimate #1? I heard miller might be available

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#3 Todd
March 21 2013, 05:02PM
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Jay wrote:

Are we ever going to have a legitimate #1? I heard miller might be available

overpaid, on the decline. I heard he might be a compliance buyout thats how down they are on him.

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#4 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 21 2013, 05:23PM
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Good thing Krueger stapled Yakupov to the bench those last 5 minutes last night. Maybe Ralph wanted Nail to have a front row seat and see how it isn't done. He certainly appears out of touch when it comes to the pulse of the game.

Krueger was his own worst enemy last night. Have to believe he knows even less about goaltending. Might as well flip a coin there Ralph. It's unfortunate the Oilers can't send YOU down to the AHL and learn the game.

A short synopsis of our coaches time here....http://youtu.be/NpYEJx7PkWE

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#5 Fresh Mess
March 21 2013, 05:41PM
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Stop with the coach second guessing. Yakupov is a rookie and not really an NHL player yet. You don't play those guys in the final minutes of a tied game.

If Yak gets lit up in the final minutes of a tied game, the arm chair GM's would be on here within seconds spouting off about how the Oilers are ruining another prospect's development.

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#6 Smokey
March 21 2013, 06:06PM
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Jay wrote:

Are we ever going to have a legitimate #1? I heard miller might be available

If you looked at his stats and underlying stats you'd realize he is a top ten goalie so.far this season. The Oilers give up the third most shots and the guys got a .920 sp. Goaltending has not been Oiler's probablem, and why pay big money for a cancer in Miller?

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#7 DSF
March 21 2013, 06:25PM
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Fresh Mess wrote:

Stop with the coach second guessing. Yakupov is a rookie and not really an NHL player yet. You don't play those guys in the final minutes of a tied game.

If Yak gets lit up in the final minutes of a tied game, the arm chair GM's would be on here within seconds spouting off about how the Oilers are ruining another prospect's development.

If he's not an NHL player, why is he playing in the NHL?

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#8 justDOit
March 21 2013, 06:28PM
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..." trade interest in Khabibulin, a sudden decision to tank, etc...

Had a genuinely good chuckle over that. Thx.

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#9 justDOit
March 21 2013, 06:30PM
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DSF wrote:

If he's not an NHL player, why is he playing in the NHL?

Because he's too young for the AHL, too good for the OHL, and wants to stay in NA to learn the game here?

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#10 John Chambers
March 21 2013, 06:34PM
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Play Khabibulin a lot. Trade Hemsky for a 1st rounder. Draft Barkov. Add quality defensemen and Ben Bishop in the offseason.

Good progress, but we're not there yet.

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#11 DSF
March 21 2013, 07:11PM
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justDOit wrote:

Because he's too young for the AHL, too good for the OHL, and wants to stay in NA to learn the game here?

That's not a good development strategy.

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#12 geoilersgist
March 21 2013, 09:34PM
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DSF wrote:

If he's not an NHL player, why is he playing in the NHL?

Because he is too good for other leagues and he is no Granlund. Thats why.

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#13 outdoorzguy
March 21 2013, 10:07PM
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All these trade wishes and player moves are dependent on the hopes that our management idiots have given some thought to doing something to improve this team. Number 1, they've proven their not capable of doing that and number 2, they're not that smart.

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#14 Dog Train
March 21 2013, 10:28PM
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I say start him on the road against St. Louis and once during back-to-backs. Khabby can give you good goaltending in spurts but we can't get suckered into rewarding him with starts if he plays well one night. That always leads to him pulling a groin or tweaking his back. For better or worse, this is Dubnyk's team. He does need a rest from time to time because it's been awhile since he's had this big of a workload but we need to find out if he is up to the task of being a true #1 in this league in the long run or just a good tandem goaltender.

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#15 outdoorzguy
March 21 2013, 10:40PM
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I'm fairly new to this site. Who is Amber McCormack? Four articles in the last 38 months. Bingofuel? Hasn't written an article in 33 months. Audrey Osadchenko? Five Yakupov articles. Stalker? Why are they considered "Voices of the Nation"?

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#16 geeker99
March 22 2013, 02:20AM
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such a loaded question. if we continue to be in a play-off race and Dube gets hurt? we need khabi cause Danis won't get it done. If he plays well in the next 2 weeks and we can get anything for him we pull the trigger on that trade. Khabi has played alright when called upon. Health is a problem as we know. rock and hard place.

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#17 The Oilers Shot Clock
March 22 2013, 06:39AM
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Put him in every time we have a two goal lead going into the third period.

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#18 JaketheSnake
March 22 2013, 08:13AM
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It is time Edmonton made a trade for a real GOALIE, because what we have now is not NHL goaltending. Its a joke the weak goals that go in every game. Get Bishop, or Lou, or maybee my grandmother cause I;m sure she would be better then what we have now

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#19 Spurzey
March 22 2013, 08:20AM
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Seems to me that Miller has tanked since they fired Ruff. I say go get them both. I am tired of spotting teams 1 stinker goal every game.

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#20 Spurzey
March 22 2013, 08:21AM
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....and getting outcoached.

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#21 Marcus
March 22 2013, 09:01AM
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The Oilers Shot Clock wrote:

Put him in every time we have a two goal lead going into the third period.

Funny. Cleaning coffee off keyboard funny.

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#22 dawgbone
March 22 2013, 09:20AM
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Fresh Mess wrote:

Stop with the coach second guessing. Yakupov is a rookie and not really an NHL player yet. You don't play those guys in the final minutes of a tied game.

If Yak gets lit up in the final minutes of a tied game, the arm chair GM's would be on here within seconds spouting off about how the Oilers are ruining another prospect's development.

If Yakupov isn't an NHL player yet, then what on earth are Mike Brown and Lennart Petrell?

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#23 tileguy
March 22 2013, 09:29AM
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Holy smokes JW, I just about blew a gasket when I read this one statement from you

"with Khabibulin the team is 31-63-14 while with Dubnyk they’re 44-52-19. Dubnyk’s the superior option, and it isn’t close."

Thats a ridiculous conclusio. Everybody knowes you ride the hot goalie. NK starts saturday.

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#24 Citizen David
March 22 2013, 10:09AM
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Do people here actually hate our goaltending that much? Dubnyk is a legitimate number one NHL goalie. About middle of the pack and is not the problem with our team. Will nothing short of a goalie who never lets a goal in be enough for you?

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#25 Oil4Life
March 22 2013, 10:44AM
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wow lots fo hate on the oilers goaltending. maybe if we didn't give up 30+ shots a game our goalies would perform bettter. with a D or two to round out our back end or just a better performance form some of the d we have, that should be playing better, we could really make a run at the cup.

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#26 Oil4Life
March 22 2013, 11:26AM
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wow lots fo hate on the oilers goaltending. maybe if we didn't give up 30+ shots a game our goalies would perform bettter. with a D or two to round out our back end or just a better performance form some of the d we have, that should be playing better, we could really make a run at the cup.

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#27 Bjorg GenStein
March 22 2013, 12:43PM
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Wow lots fo detestation on the oilers goaltending. maybe if we didn't offer up 30+ blasts a game our goalies would execute superiorly. with a D or two to round out our back end or just a better performance form some of the d we have, that should be playing better, we could actually make a path at the cup

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#28 bdiddy18
March 22 2013, 04:42PM
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Obviously the back to backs....but also if in any game Dubnyk looks shaky I would not hesitate to yank him early to give the Oilers a chance at that game too... a little bit of keenan but just not crazy keenan.

Dubnyk could use a break to, concentration level late in games may be affected by the fatigue factor.

he has let in some very stoppable goals lately.

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#29 Mumbai Max
March 23 2013, 07:23AM
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How Much Khabby could also refer to;

1. How much can we get for him at the deadline. 3rd rounder?

2. How much should we pay him to back up next year. A lot to be said for good goalie chemistry and having a back up who knows his role. Plus someone who speaks Russian. 800 K for 1year?

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