As eloquent as Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn usually is, he fumbled his words when reporters asked about the status of Nikolai Khabibulin’s back today. That can’t be a good thing.
As widely reported, Quinn offered something about Khabibulin undergoing a "procedure" when asked for an update on his starting goaltender. Pressed for details, Quinn said: "It has to do with spinal stuff that they do. Enough said. We don’t talk about injuries that much." That spinal stuff they do?
Now, I know Jason Gregor laid out a list of perfectly reasonable possibilities in today’s GDB, but when a guy like Quinn, who is usually a straight-shooter, gets evasive, I get a bad feeling — like when an air traffic controller or brain surgeon says, "Oh, shit."
Khabibulin’s been out since Nov. 18, so being told he’d "tweaked" his back long ago started to wear thin. A tweak is a game or two. With Quinn’s vague "spinal stuff" and "procedure" references, the natural questions that beg are, what spinal stuff and what kind of procedure?
Jim Matheson, Dan Barnes and I nagged Oilers PR man J.J. Hebert on that front again today after Quinn spilled the beans, suggesting fans might want some clarification. There’s a chance we will get it in the next 24 hours, but there is no guarantee.
I’ve been wrong countless times before, but, as was the case when we were told Ales Hemsky was meeting with doctors before the team announced he’d need shoulder surgery, I’m not expecting good news.
The boss on JDD
Whether Khabibulin’s 37-year-old back requires surgery or not, it seems likely Jeff Deslauriers streak of starts, which now sits at 11 straight, could hit 21 in a row and take him into the New Year.
Deslauriers, 25, faces the Los Angeles Kings tonight with an 8-4-2 record to go with a 2.60 goals-against average and a saves percentage of .916. It’s been well-documented JDD has waited his turn to prove he’s got the game to be a starter in the NHL.
I think he does, and that he’ll prove it conclusively before this season is done, but what I think doesn’t count for much. So, I asked Quinn for his take on Deslauriers.
"He’s a No. 1 because that’s where he is right now," Quinn said. OK, but is he playing like a No. 1?
"You know what? Yes and no," Quinn said. "There are times he’s made some really big stops for us. Then, there’s a couple that have gone in that you wonder about his mental toughness at the time. The last L.A. game (winner by Matt Greene). It was actually a decent shot, but late in the game up over the shoulder.
"You see a pattern there. There was a couple that happened like that. A couple from behind the net — the opening goal in St. Louis the other night. Against San Jose, he should not be playing the puck. We had big errors on that by a number of people. He should’ve stood up and played goal instead of trying to play defence. He’s learning those things
"Athletically, I think he’s going to be a No. 1 for sure. He’s just at the stage where he doesn’t have that many games played here. As he’s come along, he’s shown us some big stops here. When the game was on the line in St. Louis he stepped up and made the big saves for us. You can see that it’s there. It’s going to be, like with a lot of our young guys, consistency that has to come into his play."
Put up or shut up
There’s no question Khabibulin’s injury has provided Deslauriers with the best chance of his pro career to prove he can carry the mail as a starter. Then again, that’s not saying much, given the roadblocks thrown his way since draft day in 2002.
The sound of opportunity knocking obviously resonates with Deslauriers. I asked him about that.
"It’s hard to get to the NHL, but it’s harder to stay here," he said. "You have to give your best every night. My role at the start of the year is different than what I have right now.
"I trained this summer to get ready for this role, for more games in a row. Hockey is a role game and everybody has to do his job the best they can. I have a role that I want and I have to show what I can do.
"It’s my first chance. I have to be focused and ready every night. We’ll see what’s up for me in the future. It changes all the time, but you have to do the best you can. My goal is to be the best, no matter what I’m asked to do."
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.