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Questions Around Khabibulin’s Starts

The Edmonton Oilers need some work. No, they don’t need to hit the gym any harder, they don’t need more side projects to help fill the time, they need to figure out where the team is weak and address those weaknesses. And so, most fans can’t help but wonder why aging goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is starting in net so often this week, while the supposed starting goaltender rides the pine.

First of all, stats are good. If you looked solely at a win and you’re in plan, or who has the best record, I can see why Khabibulin would be starting so many games.

Dubnyk has a 0.917 save percentage through 14 games with a goals allowed average of 2.78 and a record of 5-5-3 while Khabibulin has a GAA of 2.11 and a save percentage of 0.935 through 5 games and a record of 2-2-1.

But Khabibulin is not the goaltender of the future and we’re not even sure if Devan Dubnyk is either. By playing Khabi over Dubnyk, you have to wonder how the Oilers feel about their assets.

Dubnyk has played well through the season to this point. While it may seem that goaltending has been the team’s weakest link, the truth is that the team has struggled to score more than Dubnyk struggling to maintain his composure in net. In fact, Dubnyk has recovered well from goals against that should have been caught, he has often been the reason the team had a real shot at a comeback if not a win. 

So, Khabi has had the best numbers and Dubnyk might be the goaltender of the future for the Oilers. What this adds up to is an unfortunate situation. While Khabi might be putting up the better stats, the Oilers don’t exactly look like a playoff team at this point. But, a few more wins due to Khabi’s play may be the difference in the minds of the coaching staff.

And then there is always the possibility that the Oilers are hoping to keep Khabi in game playing shape and prove that he is healthy enough to play in order to facilitate a trade. While the Oilers may have a number of players that they would consider moving, there has to of course be a market for these players.

The possibility of trading Khabibulin on or before the trade deadline of April 3rd, can only increase given a strong showing in net for the Oilers and increased desperation felt by other teams. So the Oilers could be hoping that the stars align, and that they may get something they need in exchange for a goaltender in his final contract year.

But the trouble with a trade theory is of course that the return at deadline time is most certainly going to prospects or draft picks, something that the Oilers don’t really need right now. Right now, the Oilers need NHL ready players who can fill in the gaps and provide size, grit and scoring in the top six.

While we may never know for sure why Khabi is being played, whether it is because he is playing well, or because they hope to trade him, we can’t help by wonder why Dubnyk isn’t playing more and hope that once he is back in net, that he won’t miss a beat.

Filed in: Edmonton Oilers, | Oil Patch | Permalink



a few more wins due to Khabi’s play may be the difference in the minds of the coaching staff.

If you saw the game last night against Chicago, he was the reason they were even in the game. You play your best goalie plain and simple.

Posted by timbits on 02/26/13 at 10:12 AM ET

Lisa Brown's avatar

Yes, Khabibulin has the best stats of the two, but what good does playing Khabibulin do if Dubnyk is going to be the goaltender going forward? The team needs to evaluate if Dubnyk can play the high pressure games and minutes. They can’t very well do that when he is on the bench.

That being said, I did of course watch the game last night, and Khabi was stellar. He did give the team the chance to win. I had thought this might be a playoff team, or at least very close. I’m now leaning towards close to a playoff team and that is all. Wins will be a good thing, but development and evaluation are going to be critical if the team wants to make the next step next season.

Posted by Lisa Brown on 02/26/13 at 10:39 AM ET

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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.

Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.

Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.

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