Getting started: tell us when, Nik

Mistakes happen, so it’s senseless to get overwrought about Nikolai Khabibulin’s all-thumbs bungling on the winning goal by David Moss in the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place Saturday.

Of more concern for me, with the caveat it’s still very early, is that GM Steve Tambellini’s big off-season signing hasn’t been very good at stopping pucks so far as a member of the Oilers.

I know, WTF Brownlee? It’s been ONE game for crying out loud. True that, although I’m looking at pre-season as well as Saturday, and the concerns I’ve voiced about Khabibulin still nag me.

After shutting out an AHL team disguised in Florida Panthers uniforms 4-0 with 18 saves in his first pre-season appearance, Khabibulin has allowed 12 goals on the 72 shots he’s faced since then, including four on 21 shots against Calgary.

That, by any measure and even if it’s early, is atrocious. No?

Puck stops here

"It’s unfortunate the way we lost, especially after coming back from being down," Khabibulin said of his last-minute faux pas on a loose puck. "In reality, it is one game."

Even with the shutout against the Panthers, Khabibulin finished pre-season with a 2.96 goals-against average and .884 saves percentage in 162 minutes through three appearances.

No worries, insisted many. A guy like Khabibulin will be ready when the puck drops with points on the line. He’s a veteran. A Stanley Cup winner. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he does. That’s still the case.

"Exhibition, I never take it into consideration," Khabibulin said. "Quite honestly, I don’t even know what my stats are in exhibition. It’s never on any hockey cards. You’ll never find it in any hockey books."

While I’m not going to harp on the fact Khabibulin’s saves-percentage through one game that matters is .810 — I roll my eyes when numbers guys cherry-pick stats to make their case — I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he has to be better than he has been. Sooner rather than later.

"We know he’s a good player," coach Pat Quinn said today when Jim Matheson of The Journal asked about Khabibulin after practice.

"He’s working his way to get his timing like all of our players are. There are a lot of guys who are trying to find their game right now. He’s good. He’s working hard at it."

Fine. Good. Results, please.

Around the room

— Forward Marc Pouliot skated for the first time since being put on the shelf after three pre-season appearances with an inflamed pubic bone, also known as pubitis.

"A lot of treatments. I feel good," Pouliot said. "I’m day-to-day. Hopefully, by the end of the week."

Pouliot won’t be ready to play against Dallas Tuesday, but he could be available for the rematch with the Flames Thursday or for Saturday’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens.

By the way, for the benefit of whoever it was who was arguing with Jonathan Willis and I about whether Pouliot was a "decent size" based on his vitals of six-foot-one and 195 pounds, an update.

Pouliot is playing this season at 205 pounds and he’s actually closer to six-foot-two than six-foot-one. While I’m not going to argue Pouliot plays a robust game, he most certainly is a "decent size" compared to his NHL peers. Now, let’s move on. Nothing to see here.

— Captain Ethan Moreau didn’t skate today. The ankle that was bothering him before the season-opener flared up again and kept him off the blades today. No firm word on his status for Tuesday.

— Steve Staios was packing a lot of ice on his right knee after practice today, the result of being hit by a shot. Staios expects to be fine to play against the Stars.

— Former University of Alberta Golden Bear Aaron Sorochan is the back-up to Devan Dubnyk with the Springfield Falcons to start the season. Sorochan saw his first action in a 6-2 loss to Providence Sunday, spelling off Dubnyk in the third period.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • Librarian Mike

    I can't help but wonder if this discussion would be happening if it was Souray in that situation. From what I've seen of Smid, he's never struck me as 'soft'. That is, unless that's meant as a euphemism for 'European'.

  • Smid is not trying to block a shot when he is that tight and off to one side of the goal, he is looking for someone to clear. When the puck comes up high that fast, it's a normal reaction to turn away.
    I think some fans could benefit from spending some time at ice level seeing how fast things happen. Even six or eight rows up you lose the speed of the game.

  • 99thOilerfan

    Good evening

    I too am worried, about the Wall but it is not my job on the line,right?

    I thought there was some fight in the boys.
    They did not look too bad… Did they ?

    now back to your scheduled name calling..

    Good bye and Good luck

  • Librarian Mike

    I have a feeling that everyone at The Pint tomorrow is going to collectively flinch every time Khabibulin leaves his net. Then again, I'm pretty sure that was a mistake he won't be soon making again.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    I at no time put myself in that return volley Robin, he comes down on me like he's played the game and speaking from experience, i'm wasn't trying to play tough guy.

    You think a Souray or Staios or Strudwick would have bailed on that puck like Smid did….what was your opinion on that play Robin?

  • roadrunner

    I didn't get a chance to watch the game except for tidbits in the 3rd period so I can't comment on alot. The one thing I did notice however is the Oil looked more committed to being physical. Most of last year they appeared hesitant to be agressive so hopefully they can be more consistant in that aspect this season.

    Khabi's gaffe is just that, a gaffe of minor proportions. It happens and will probably happen again. Roli was the worst puck handler I've ever seen and he was bad all the time so I'm willing to forgive just this once… I do however agree with Brownlee that Khabi better start bringing his A-minus game (at least) over the next 20 games or this team is in deep trouble.

    Three good games this week to see how they measure up so I'm looking forward to it. They should at least finish .500 for the homestand I'm thinking.

  • All things considered, I was happy that the team showed some heart out there on Saturday. Khabibulin is a little scary right now but my magic 8 ball said he'd be fine. And the prophetic orb has never steered me wrong before.

  • Oilitsinyoutogive

    Brownlee you get to knock the wall all you want!! Atleast your not one of these people who was in love with him Saturday morning, but then he makes you sick and the season is over come Sunday morning. Its people like that who make it hard not to punch people in the face. I just dont see how so many people are crying the seasons over, when we are one game in??

    • He just hasn't looked right to me so far. I've been around since Nik was a rookie in Winnipeg and I've seen him play a lot of good goal. Knowing that, I don't for a second think he's going to spend all season giving up four goals a night or hovering around .810.
      The thing is, though, as the starter and the guy who got a long-term contract, he can't afford to feel his way into the season. If it takes him 10 or 20 games to regain his form it might not matter how well he plays after that.
      The Oilers don't have enough margin — they have none, to be exact — to have the luxury of having their starter so-so for any stretch.

      • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

        So if the best goalie in the world can start the season with .857 GAA and an 0-2 record without any panicking, why are we even talking about this right now?

        We have upgraded our goaltending…no question!

        He is a veteran that had 2 unlucky goals go in and then made a bad mistake at a horrible time. He will win us hockey games. If after twenty games he doesn't; then we can start to get worried.

        People can discount his shutout vs FLA in the preseason because it was against minor league competition. I am wondering why people can't use the same rationale to make an excuse for his GAA with minor league players lined up in front of him? To me, I put little (if any) stock into the preseason for a guy like Khabibulin. Therefore, I am not prepared to make any kind of judgements based on one game in which the goalie had our team in a position to win with 49 seconds left in the game.

        I have no problem being negative or pessimistic when the situation warrants; but I hardly think you (and others) have given Nik (as you call him) a chance? Have you?

      • BarryS

        The thing that bothers me is the seven d and Bulin did not have many games to get to know each other under game conditions. It was clear Bulin has as yet no reason to trust the d to make the right plays and they proved undependable on at least three of the four goals.

        I don't think he will be able to carry the d all year any more than Rolli could. The d better start playing the system on five on five as well as the PK or it'll be a long season.

      • Oilitsinyoutogive

        Its good to hear you dont think the first game is a pre cursor for his play over rest of the season. Most people ive had the unfortunate pleasure of talking to today have more or less thrown in the towel after 1 game. This bothers me because even with pre-season we could be alot worse off and for now we can atleast put it up to being early. It does worry me hes not playing the the level he can, however i hope his mistakes Saturday are something hes able to grow off of.

  • Smid bailing on Calgarys second goal was a little week kneed….Smid pulls the chute turns to avoid getting hit with the shot) on Phanuefs shot from the blue line deflecting it into our own net. Selfish play in my books.

    • toprightcorner

      Really?! Would you put your candy ass in front of a 100mph slap shot?? didn't think so. Besides it's a total fluke goal, it could have happened if he didn't try and get out of the way. then you'd be saying "he should have gotten out of the way and let it hit the boards, instead of trying to be a hero." It was a fluke and I guarantee he wasn't playing selfish.

      • Guys put themselves in harms way on numerous occasions during every game, i'm not sure you fully appreciate or are aware of what you're watching. What Smid did isn't what Steve Staois would have done or what a Jason Smith would do, Ladislav spun away from the shot trying to avoid being hit at all by that puck. If he had time to bail/turn one way…why couldn't he have bailed the other as to not deflect the puck into our own net. He's soft for a blueliner in even todays game.

        I know this may be small to you but it is alot of little things like this that make a big difference (insert image of Horcoff blocking Lidstroms 110 mph slapstot with his up high on his chest during the 2006 run)

        He's a candy ass and so are you.

        • BarryS

          By definition the worst player in the best leaque iess better than the best player in the second best leaque. See anyone in the AHL. As for turning away, sometimes the unconscious mind overrules the conscious mind. I agree though, it happens to often its time to retire and Smid is to young to suffer from the bodies auto-eject mechanism.

        • Librarian Mike

          Smid's not even close to being a candy ass or "soft". If anything he probably had a lapse in judgment because of the goal that went in off him during a failed block attempt during preseason against Calgary. Secondly, your statement of "he's soft for a blueliner in todays game", if I understand you, just betrays ignorant nostalgia. Smid is bigger, faster, in better shape, and facing shots at consistently higher velocity than your good 'ole day blueliners. I dig your enthusiasm for self-sacrifice, but if you wanna talk about self-sacrifice for the betterment of the team, maybe we should talk about some of your "examples" retiring.

        • Nobody who plays in the NHL is a "candy ass." The softest player in the league would open a can on of whoop-ass on the internet tough guys out there so fast it would make your head spin, so let's give the name-calling a rest.

  • That's a real picture and not a Wanye(tm) MS Paint Doodle. Gatorade Bhulin (street name: Bhulinade) is a real medication consisting of grape soda and ground up antiperspirant that was recently developed by a crack team of Rexall-employed pharmaceutical technologists to help with our illustrious tender's dehydration issues. Unfortunately, during animal testing, when the rhesus monkey goalies kept making bone-headed moves with the puck and allowing a computer simulated David Moss to score gift-wrapped game winners, doctors just assumed that it was because monkeys are retarded… It was actually a side-effect.

  • Like I said, that was a flukey play that was costly and it's not worth getting panicky over.
    Veterans get some degree of a pass from the coaching staff during pre-season with the understanding that they'll be ready to go when the season begins.
    Khabibulin was given that slack, as it should be, and he had a bad pre-season. He simply has to be better now that it counts — that's his end of the deal.

  • So Moreau has a bum ankle. Is that why he almost when ass over tea kettle in the pre-game introductions?

    While I don't want to pile on about Khabi after 1 game, the guy gaffed that play like he was an 18 year old rookie. Not a 36 year old, stanley cup winner. He has never been known for his stick handling, maybe he should just worry about stopping the puck instead of being all Marty Brodeur.

  • @OvenChicken8

    I really don't think it matters how much a guy weighs. (Unless it's a 50lb difference) It's all in your balance and leg strength. Lemieux, IMO, still would have been good if he was 20 lbs lighter. He would still have weighed over 200. Lindros might still be playing if he was lighter as a player. ~Maybe he could've moved out of the way before Stevens makes his brain into mush?~ Maybe. Point is… Pouliot sucks anyways. 10 to 20 pounds isn't going to make a huge difference for any player, nevermind Pouliot.

    • The reason this all came up was many people were harping on about how small the Oilers are, how that they are pushed off the puck and lose battles because of their lack of size.

      It was a constant knock on the team by most here. I took exception to Pouliot being excluded from the small group despite being listed only 4lbs heavier than the "diminutive" Gagner

      To Mr. Brownlee

      Pouliot being up at 205 is a good move for him. And I am thrilled he is most definitely "DECENT" in size. I hope it helps improve his all around game and I am glad I was wrong. I also hope he finds that niche.

      • I remember the conversation. I just don't buy that kind of excuse. 10 lbs isn't going to turn a soft player into a superstar. It's up to the player. Ask Gagner. He was a force in the 3rd period of last game (including the fight in the 2nd). Because he had to or he's not going to play. He will try and do the same tomorrow. Will he do it? It's up to him, not how much he weighs. Same goes with Pouliot. It's up to him if he can be a force in the NHL, not if he eats another plate of spaghetti. The ball is in his court now.

    • I don't know, to be honest. It's a move up in weight for him. I thought he looked a little thicker than the 195 he was listed at and, sure enough, he is.
      What's more important, as people have said, is that he play a more robust game when he does get in on the third or fourth line. Marc hasn't found his niche yet and he's running out of time.
      He's a damn good kid and an honest player who has shown a lot of character in the past. He needs to show that now.

      • An extra 10lbs can help him win more battles for the puck, which usually results in more scoring chances for the Oil. So yes it really does matter. Do you think guys like Lindros/Lemieux/Jagr would have been so dominating if they were 20-30lbs lighter?

        *I'm not comparing Pouliot to those 3 btw.*

  • I think the puck stopping has a lot more to do with the play of the defense rather than the goaltending personally. Grebeshkov, Smid and Staios did not look good, and if you erase that last blunder by Khabibulin, he had no chance on the other goals.