NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN: WHAT AM I MISSING?

As good teammates will do, and as you’d expect, the Edmonton Oilers came to the defence of Nikolai Khabibulin after Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Too bad they weren’t so inclined while the game was being played, but I digress . . .

Why is Khabibulin, who got lit up for four goals on eight shots in a 7-1 loss to Carolina Tuesday and six more on 34 shots against the Red Wings, not getting roasted in the prints and on the airwaves like he is between the pipes?

Not only is that not happening, Khabibulin has been hailed by some as team MVP, as the only reason the Oilers have been remotely competitive from time-to-time this season. I’m not making it up.

With Thursday’s stellar performance — an .824 saves percentage after batting .500 against the Hurricanes — Khabibulin is 4-8-1 with a saves percentage of .890 and a 3.64 goals-against average.

Those are MVP numbers? In what league?

Did I fall down the stairs and hit my head?

COMPANY LINE

The Oilers were covering Khabibulin’s backside better than he’s covered the net after the loss.

"That’s two in a row we didn’t help out our goalie at all," Ryan Whitney told reporters after the game. "I guess it’s a good thing we get to play tomorrow night. Just get right back at it."

Said Colin Fraser: "What was it 35 shots on net? Were any of those goals soft? I don’t think so. The first two or three were right in our slot. That’s not a goalies fault they’re shooting from there."

With the excuse-making and spin we’re getting, I’m surprised Sportsnet even ran the graphics listing Khabibulin’s sad-sack stats before the game. And wasn’t Thursday the second or third game in a row Khabibulin has been singled out for one of those advertiser sponsored "play-of-the-game" type highlights?

Play-by-play man Kevin Quinn and sidekick Louie DeBrusk did their parts in this one. Aside from the play of the game routine, which they may or may not have had a part in, Quinn dutifully threw some Jimmy Howard "SHUTOUT" facts our way in the first 20 seconds of the third period, setting the stage for Dustin Penner.

OVERKILL

On one obvious level I get the spin by the team. It doesn’t help the situation to tell the truth. Hoping another team loses a goaltender to injury, natural disaster or whatever it takes so the phone rings won’t matter even if it happens if you’ve just crapped on Khabibulin publicly.

That’s not smart. And it’s bad form. I get it. I’ve got no real beef with players like Whitney and Fraser accentuating the positive after a second straight lopsided loss. Like I said, that’s what teammates do. That said, it’s getting just a bit thick in here when it comes to the whole sell job, isn’t it?

Do the Oilers and their TV folks think fans of the team are drooling fools? They must, because they keep pitching and what we keep hearing about Khabibulin doesn’t jibe with what we see.

It’s not even close.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Khabibulins arguably been the Oilers best player so far 14 games in. It is obvious those seeking opportunites have both barrels pointed at Khabby waiting for the wall to crumble. It really doesn’t matter who’s playing goal for us this year, the results will be very similar. Sending our best defenceman to Hersey confirms the on ice success is the last thing on Tambellinis mind this year. Katz waived the white flag allowing all involved to underachieve for the next couple years so whats the big deal?

    • D-Man

      I can’t see how Souray could be considered our best defensemen considering the crap spewing from his mouth at the end of the season… True or not – you don’t throw your employer under the bus in front of the media… Although I would agree that this team, with a happy Souray, would be significantly better – Whitney is our best defensemen.

      Considering what I’ve heard about Souray, from listening to Brownlee on the Gregor show, I say good riddance.. Does that mean Katz waved the white flag?? Possibly… Or does it mean Tambo gets a one or two year pass to change the culture of this team back to its winning ways??

  • Horcsky

    On an unrelated note, I’m surprised at the lack of curse mentioning going on over the wings. What, Dan Cleary’s two goals isn’t enough? The curse continues.

    Luckily only Jason Arnott is there to burn us tonight. . . oh wait.

  • Bucknuck

    Great read as usual, Mr. Brownlee.

    I cannot believe how much they are playing/talking about Khabibulin when his play has been as poor as it is. Granted the Oil’s defensemen are not the best (Whitney aside), world class MVP goaltenders can usually make up for that. It has been making me feel more than a little irritated and it is good to see I am not alone.

    Khabibulin is a great playoff goaltender, but this team needs a goaltender to help the team get to the playoffs too and I don’t really think he’s that guy. DD better get more starts or I am going to start rethinking my current man-love for Renney.

  • Bucknuck

    The media’s been covering up for this team for so long that I dare say they don’t even realize there’s Another way to cover a pro team.

    I know Khabby hasn’t been great but MGMT built this team without getting people that can kill penalties or without a sensible D corps so there are lots of real stories to cover if someone wants to dig into it.

  • Minister D-

    Brownlee reminds me of Bob Eucker in the Major League movies. Eucker didn’t tow the company line – he would just say what was on his mind:

    Ball gets hammered out over the centre-field fence.
    Eucker – “He’s going to need a rocket up his ass to catch that one”.

    Thank you, RB. Khabibulin stinks.

    However I argued in late August that we should use his DUI as a means of extracating ourselves from his awful contract. You argued that sentiments like this were opportunistic and in poor taste. So what’s wrong with opportunism, brother? Clearly Khabbi can’t legally fulfill on his contract because he sucks.

    • Bucknuck

      Using the DUI as an excuse to try get out of his contract isn’t a good idea.
      Bad, bad precedent to be setting.

      What do they do if young Mr. Hall, for example, has one beer too many and finds himself in the same situation? They would have no choice but to also walk away from his contract (if that’s possible).

      People make mistakes. If they want to get rid of Khabibulin for his on-ice performance,there are more honourable avenues. Hiding behind the DUI would not endear the Oilers to potential free agents who might consider playing here.

      Having said that, making an example of Sheldon Souray for mouthing off against the organization may not have been a bad precedent to set . . .

      • Of course they would have a choice if Hall did the same thing as Khabibulin. That’s ridiculous. Life isnt fair. At some point people need to learn that some people get more chances than others for completely arbitrary reasons.

        Some people (young forwards who have the potential to be the face of a franchise for the next 15 years) arent going to have their contracts voided for breaking the law, other people (over the hill goalies who have ECHL save percentages) will.

        • Bucknuck

          Yes, of course you are right. Life isn’t fair.

          The Oilers have had a rough enough time attracting talent. Sending out a clear message that not all players in the dressing room will be treated as equals may not be in the teams best interest.

          Isn’t that part of the beast they have been wrestling with the last few years? Entitlement, and perceived entitlement have been rotting the dressing room here for quit some time.

          I know the Hall/Khabbibulin scenario is a bit of a stretch, but it would be a P.R. nightmare for the Oilers if something like that were to happen. Actually, not much of a stretch. Players make dumb off-ice decisions all the time.
          (See: Patrick Kane & Buffalo cabbie)

  • Bucknuck

    Rubin, you know as well as anybody that players are trained to respond to outside inquiries about goaltending with cliches. Since Ethan Moreau is no longer here to throw his teammates under the bus, the boys remaing have understandably closed ranks.

    Meanwhile, on Long Island, the too-old Roloson is still chugging along with a .924 save percentage over 9 games. Of course last year Khabbi had a higher save percentage than Roli, .909 > .907. Roli did play a few more games, though, 50 > 18.

    Obviously there is more to it than just the numbers, or extra 2 years of contract that Khabbi signed up for, right? Roli must have been poison in the dressing room, and ReKhab is the life of the party!

  • Yes, NK does stink right now, as he has on occasions in the past.
    Khabby started his career with .895, bumped around between .900 and .923 with the Jets/Coyotes/Lightning, bottomed out at .886 in his first year with the Hawks and since then has bounced between .902 and .919 (including last year with a .909).
    I highlight this wide range of numbers to show that he has had both up and down years throughout his career, for which he was not likely 100% responsible (for the good, the bad or the ugly totals).

    Also, the guy has been hit with a huge amount of rubber this season already – about 10% more than his previous highest per game total (not an excuse – just saying).

    Some comparables: Chris Osgood has had a save %age in the .890 range many recent years (most would say that his defence has acted as an insulation – all he has to do is make the first save on each rush).
    Luongo, even when he was buried in FLA had a save %age in the .915 range (even on bad teams he has always posted good save %age numbers – just not in big games). Dubnyk – last season -was .889. JDD was .901 the last 2 seasons.

    I’m heading all over the map with this, but to summarize:
    A) just because he sucks today or this year, doesn’t mean that he will next year.
    B) save %age and how they translate into Wins and Losses has a lot to do with who’s playing in front of you. More offence, plus better D equals better goalie stats all around.
    C) Nothing against Nick, but remind me again why they’re not playing the kids…

    Finally, does anyone know the breakdown of goals allowed on NK based on 1st/2nd/3rd shot breakdown? ie: what kind of goals is he letting in.

    Keep up the good work RB

  • Bucknuck

    i was at the det. game, i had to see them live to see if they really are as bad as they look on tv. they look way worse live, the give aways and turn overs in their own end were one after another all night long. worst puck movement team ever watched, so dont get down on khabby. he faced 5 star chances all night, thanks to oiler d-men. offence starts with defence and when your offence is constantly trying to pick the puck out of their feet or they have to slow down to take a pass there is going to be little offence. bottom line, our D is awful and everything else is going to suffer until it is fixed.

  • Bucknuck

    The Bulin Wall is yet to cost us a point in the standings this year, if and when it does happen, we can all take comfort in knowing it doesn’t really matter.

    Emotionless last place hockey.

  • fullbar

    Khabibulin should be put in jail instead of wasting the oilder time, he is a criminal a drunk and could be killer. My son was killed by a drunk driver and Habbi as you all call him is a plain done did Drunken fool.