The fans at Rexall might have set a preseason record for the earliest BOOOOOOO of the season, when they voiced their displeasure after Nikolai Khabibulin allowed a 3rd goal only 18:35 into the first period. Khabibulin allowed three goals on seven shots, and while you can’t blame him on the first one, we’ve seen this horror movie before.
He needs to stop the puck.
You could point to a rookie pinch by Martin Marincin that gave the Wild a 2-on-1 that Pierre-Marc Bouchard roofed upstairs for the 3rd goal, but Khabibulin was way too deep in his crease on the shot. There are no excuses for how he played. His only saving grace was that it was a preseason game.
He looked rusty, but unlike previous years I’m not certain he will get the chance to play his way into tip-top shape. Devan Dubnyk is right behind, or right beside, him on the depth chart, and Tom Renney doesn’t have the luxury of allowing the Bulin Wall to get his game together brick-by-brick. Khabibulin needs to have his foundation in place during his next two preseason performances or he won’t, or shouldn’t, be starting on October 9th against the Penguins.
Khabibulin had the worst SV% of any starting goalie last year; an embarrassing .890% to go along with a pathetic 3.40 GAA. His SV% was even worse than Brian Elliott, Dan Ellis and Peter Budaj. Brian freaking Elliott was better than him.
Dubnyk played behind the same porous defense and inexperienced forwards, yet he managed a respectable .916 SV% and 2.71 GAA. Last night junior goalie, Tyler Bunz, relieved Khabibulin halfway through the second frame and stopped the first ten shots he faced. He stopped 10 of 11 and looked much more comfortable than Khabibulin.
You can say it was only a preseason game, but at what point does Renney stop waiting for Khabibulin to find his game. Maybe he can’t find it? Maybe he doesn’t have it anymore?
It sounds like Yann Danis and David LeNeveu will split the game on Thursday, so that leaves five more preseason tilts. Will the Oilers give Khabibulin three full starts and Dubnyk two? Dubnyk said he was hoping to start one game this coming weekend and then one next weekend, but if he is playing better maybe he gets the extra start?
I’ve always said you can’t take too much out of the first preseason game, but normally I’m talking about some young rookie who scored two goals and people think he’s ready for the Show. In Khabibulin’s case, we’ve all seen two years of sub-par hockey from him, and last night’s effort only increased the doubt in the mind of Oiler fans.
I wonder if that same doubt is creeping into the psyche of the coaching staff?
While Magnus Paajarvi, Anton Lander and Linus Omark didn’t look this good last night, the "Tre Kroner Konnection" had a great first game together. They combined for two goals, three assists, ten shots, three hits, three takeaways and they averaged 19:15 of icetime. They all looked dangerous at different times, and I’m sure Renney would like to give them another chance to play together very soon.
Paajarvi and Lander were clearly the best of the three, and what I liked most about Lander was his post-game reaction. He was legitimately annoyed that they lost. He hates losing and he couldn’t hide it. It’s nice to see a guy who cares that much. Paajarvi told me that Lander hates losing more than anyone he’s ever played with, and that’s the exact type of attitude the Oilers need.
I still think Lander will start the season in the AHL, but if he play like this when the opposition ices a veteran team then he might force Renney to make a tough decision.
I also like Antti Tyrvainen’s game. He only played 8:54, but I noticed him often. He showed a nice touch on his goal and he isn’t afraid to go in the corners. He’s another guy who needs to keep getting noticed as the games become more competitive, but so far so good.
I thought Kirill Tulupov played okay, considering his young D partner, Martin Marincin, really struggled early. Tulupov might earn himself a two-way contract in the next few weeks. Marincin is not strong enough to play in the AHL this year. He didn’t gain enough strength this off-season, and I won’t be surprised if the Oiler elect to have him train in Edmonton rather than back home in the Czech next summer. I don’t think he was able to train enough, or get the proper guidance necessary to gain muscle and strength properly.
Sending Marincin back to junior means his contract won’t count towards the 50 contract cap, and that could open up a spot for Tulupov.
The feed for the Oilers/Hawks game kept buffering every three seconds so I wasn’t able to watch it, but I got some reports from guys there and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looked more than comfortable in his first preseason game. He assisted on Ryan Smyth’s opening goal, missed an open net and generated quite a few chances. One person within the organization gave him a B+ ranking.
Smyth played like it was 2007 and mixed in a few saucer passes for fun. He told me at the morning skate he hadn’t been this excited for a preseason game in a decade, and, despite his age, he wants to show Renney he can still be a go-to guy.
Josh Green potted a pair of goals, and while he’s destined to start the season in OKC, more for his leadership than anything, he clearly doesn’t want to get sent down without a fight. I’m guessing we see Green re-called as an injury replacement at some point during the season. He could fill a void for five to ten games.
- The Oilers will keep at least 15 D-men until Saturday, unless Renney wants to play a guy in three straight games. Ryan Whitney, Colten Teubert and Andy Sutton are in camp, but none are likely to play until Sunday at the earliest. There will be some cuts tomorrow, because they only have two ice slots scheduled. They won’t cram 27 or 28 guys into each session.
- I thought Bunz looked solid once again, and if he goes back to Medicine Hat and doesn’t have a slow start I’m certain he’ll suit up for Canada at the WJC in Edmonton/Calgary this Christmas.
- Hopefully on Saturday night the Internet feed for the Oilers/Flames game won’t be as inconsistent as it was last night. You can watch Thursday’s game on TSN and Sunday’s game in Calgary on Sportsnet.
- Which players did you like last night? Who didn’t you like?