GDB 11.0: HALLOWEEN KHABBY REFUSES TO DIE

Michael Myers refusing to buy the farm again and again in that seemingly endless series of Halloween slasher flicks has nothing on Nikolai Khabibulin and the Edmonton Oilers when it comes to scripts that are absolutely unbelievable.

It’s 10 games into the 2011-12 season and the Oilers are actually thinking of dressing up as a contending team for Halloween as they sit atop the Northwest Division with gaudy 6-2-2 record after a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver as the St. Louis Blues come calling at Rexall Place tonight.

That’s the best start the Oilers have managed in a decade, since they got off to a 9-4-1 mark to open the 2001-02 season — about the time Halloween V (Michael Milks the Box Office Again) was attracting garden variety mouth-breathers and those with rubber bull nuts hanging off the bumpers of their pick-ups to the silver screen and scaring white trash in trailer parks across the nation.

Smack-dab in the middle of the ridiculous storyline is the 38-year-old Khabibulin, who was dead-and-buried to the majority of Oilers fans after last season but will face the Blues tonight with a record of 4-0-2, a goals-against average of 0.97 and a .964 saves percentage. In keeping with the sequels theme, tonight could be SIUTBOHC VII.

Trick or treat, indeed.

SO GOOD IT’S SCARY

The Oilers come in on a four-game winning streak thanks to 40 saves from Devan Dubnyk in Denver, a stretch that equals their longest streak last season.

The Oilers have been winning with great goaltending from Dubnyk and Khabibulin, improved special teams and a defensive corps that has been unexpectedly tighter than Wanye’s change purse thanks to Corey Potter’s emergence, Tom Gilbert finally deciding it’s better to give than to receive and Cam Barker showing signs of snapping out of a two-year coma.

The Oilers have allowed just 10 even-strength goals against in 10 games and have allowed more than two goals against in just one game — a 4-3 loss to Vancouver. While the Kid Line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have garnered most of the ink with a promising start, it’s been Edmonton’s ability to keep the puck of the net that’s been the difference-makers so far.

Tom Renney’s over-achievers will need more of the same against the Blues, who have beaten the Oilers for fun over the last couple of seasons, winning six of the last eight games between the teams. St. Louis is coming off a 3-1 loss in Calgary.

It’s also worth noting that the Oilers are going to need every one of those 14 points they’ve banked going into November because they will play six straight games on the road after facing the Blues tonight.

THE LINE-UP

Here is Renney’s line-up, based on today’s morning skate.

Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle

Smyth – Horcoff – Jones

Paajarvi – Belanger – Gagner

Eager – Lander – Petrell

Smid – Gilbert

Barker – Petry

Peckham – Potter

Khabibulin

Dubnyk

OF NOTE . . .

— Andy Sutton is suspended for tonight’s game pending a hearing with Brendan Shanahan Monday for his headshot on Gabriel Landeskog of the Avalanche. With Sutton being a previous offender — he was given two games for a hit from behind on Pascal Dupuis — and being summoned to New York, bet on a suspension of four games or more.

— With Ryan Whitney out for as long as three weeks with a sprained right knee and Sutton awaiting his fate, the Oilers have called up Alex Plante from Oklahoma City.

— Ales Hemsky (shoulder) skated with the Oilers this morning but won’t play. So did winger Linus Omark, who goes into Halloween dressed up as an unhappy spectator once again.

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers make it five straight wins with one for the road and beat the Blues 5-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Khabibulin continues to dumbfound his critics in his return from Tent City with 36 saves . . . Ryan Jones gets credited with the winner when a botched Shawn Horcoff one-timer bounces off his backside and the crossbar and trickles across the goal line . . . Gene Principe does his pre-game introduction for Sportsnet wearing a Bozo costume despite taking a wayward Alex Steen slapper off the orange fringe during warm-up.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle combine for four points but are quietly reprimanded by Renney after St. Louis team officials complain that several of their players were awakened at the team hotel after midnight Saturday by knocks on the door and burning paper bags full of dog crap.

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

  • OilFan

    I thought St. Louis was suppose to be decent. Their defence looked like Swiss Cheese, and their a bunch of lumbering cheep shot artists. Don’t turn your back, cause if they see numbers its like a giant bullseye. I hope Shanny gives out some suspensions to St. Louis.

    Halal got all Khabbyboulin on the Oil. He got lit up in the first 30, and was a wall there rest of the way.

    • Puritania

      Totally agree with that. St. Louis’s defence made about a dozen very poor giveaways either in the low slot area or on the corner boards. Halak isn’t getting a lot of support.

      Also about that comment on the 6-3-1 start in 09/10 the Oilers were being outshot by a significant margin during that streak. I think about a 6-7 shot difference per game. Also their team defence was much worse.

      This season guys like Hall and Paarjarvi are sharper in terms of puck support. Paarjarvi is shaping into a good defensive forward and even if his offense never really breaks 50pts/season if he develops into a two way forward I’d be happy. Definitely value in a player like that, especially with his speed/size combo.

      Also while the Oilers are giving up chances the significant diffence is in the crease area. The Oilers aren’t giving up free chances and are rarely outnumbered around the crease area which again was the main reason they gave up so many goals the past two seasons. They’re clearing the crease of pucks and bodies, blocking shots, and just doing a better job of not giving a lot of clean chances for the other team.

  • Romanus

    Smid and Gilbert really deserve some props. They were terrific again. In fact, the entire blueline moved the puck very quickly and efficiently tonight. If Whitney ever gets healthy, this group of d-men is SOLID.

    And Hemsky will be back soon, which is huge. Insert him on the second line with Horcoff and Smyth and you’ve got a guy who can carry the puck and create a ton of offense. Not to say Jones has been bad, he’s actually been very capable, but having Hemsky on that second line gives you two LEGITIMATE scoring lines.

    I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm, but if this team stays reasonably healthy, there’s a real chance this team makes the playoffs. I can say that confidently, because the Mulleted One is back and the curse has been broken. CURSE HAS BEEN BROKEN PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SQUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

    Oh yeah that Belanger call was all kinds of brutal. Hope things start to turn around for the guy.

    • For me, the most impressive aspect of how Gilbert is playing is that he’s doing it with Whitney out.

      In the past, he’s struggled at times when pushed beyond a complimentary role, but he isn’t showing any of that right now.

  • Wanyes bastard child

    Wanye got it right this time in the score box in the top right corner… this may mean we are going to lose the next game 🙁

    That being said, I see this 6 game road schedule as our biggest test to the season, we are doing great and if we can come home from these road games above .500 on the trip I will believe that this isn’t an anomaly of our boys returning to form and that we may actually be for real 🙂

    LETS GO OILERS!

  • Wanyes bastard child

    Yeah, Gilbert has really impressed so far. He’s engaging physically, he’s consistently calm with the puck, and he’s got great smarts when it comes to pinching in on offense. Just playing like a really capable NHL defenseman, which is what Lowetide has been telling us all along. I mean, I’ve never been a Gilbert hater, but I didn’t think he’d be this solid.

    Mind you, it doesn’t hurt that Smid is playing as good as I’ve ever seen him. He’s using his mobility to escape pressure and he’s moving the puck with more purpose. Whereas in years past he would overthink the game and overhandle the puck, now he’s making simple plays and getting things moving up ice quickly. Really happy with this d-pairing. Definitely looking like top-4 material.

  • Clyde Frog

    I’m starting to get excited, that looked like a lot more of a complete game win and we got that shot differential under control.

    Time to jump on the bandwagon!

  • I figure this is one of those things that until I tell someone about it, I’ll keep thinking about it:

    Every time I see that number 55 on the Oilers, I think “Eager Ulanov”.

    There. Now you have to deal with it too every time you see him on the ice.

  • Bucknuck

    I feel very afraid to believe… but after eleven games it starts seeming a little less like a nice dream and something that is happening.

    Khabibulin is playing well (does this mean I owe Tambellini an apology?), Ryan Smyth is playing like… well… Ryan Smyth. The young guns are gunning… and the defense that I thought sucked is playing like they aren’t a bunch of castoffs.

    Is it time for me to start shedding the cynicism? I am starting to think so… and it scares me…

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Tough call isn’t it.

      I’m wanting to jump on the PO bandwagon, but it just seems too good to be true.

      You have to think the team SV% is going to drop back into the .910% eventually…. so that works out to 1 – 2 more goals against per game…. when that starts happening does everyone start to tighten up and lose the winning edge?

  • m3sh

    Wow suddenly this team that’s on the rise has risen unexpectedly. We have five in a row and leading the division for the first time in ever. All of this coming from a team missing their number one d-man and number one offensive weapon.

    These guys don’t really seem to have a chink in the armour. They’re getting timely goals and the defense and goaltending have been outstanding. Most nights like tonight the other team looks run down by the third period, the speed and the transition game has been solidly built.

    Potter, Gilbert and Smid have been a revelation, three guys who pretty much risen from the ashes after two of the three had horrible years. Potter comes out of nowhere and becomes the second stud defense or maybe even ahead of Whitney. This high feels good and as an Oilers fan who was ready to pull out the “Paper” bag this year. Good show boys, keep the good times rollin’! SMYTH for PREMIER!

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Brownlee, the biggest difference I have found in Gilbert`s game is the physical nature. He`s been hitting guys in the face, he`s more engaged. You could argue that he is the important part of the transfermation of this team. He`s the most important cog on the backend so far this year. His puck movement has been sublime, he`s able to get the puck out of the zone consistancy, and I conclude that it must be because he stopped having nightmares about playing with Grebeshkov. Thats the only thing that can explain it. It`s his best stretch as an Oiler I believe in all aspects of his game. Even though he`s been a top 2 defencemen in Edmonton, it finally appears the guy belongs in that role and is thriving. Yeh for GIBBY…could not happen to nicer guy. Hopefully one day he will win a game in front of his parents.

  • Bandwagon jumper

    That boarding call was pathetic. As were the non-calls on a couple of the hits from behind the Oil received.

    Conspiracy Theory: The league has instructed the refs and Shanahan to penalize the Oilers where ever possible and shove their whistles in their pockets when guys like Hall, Belanger, and Horcoff take brutal hits with no calls.

    Shhh. I must be quiet now and put my tin foil hat back on.