Nikolai Khabibulin off to best start of long career

John Kreiser –

The surprising Edmonton Oilers have gotten a lot of attention because of young stars like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. However, it’s 38-year-old goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin who’s been the biggest difference between the team that finished 30th in the standings in 2010-11 and the one that takes a Northwest Division-leading 9-4-2 mark into Friday’s visit to Detroit.

Khabibulin will take the ice with a 7-0-2 record, a goals-against average of 0.98 and a save percentage of .964. His GAA after nine games is the lowest since the expansion era began 44 years ago. He has allowed just nine goals in nine games, and no more than two in any one contest.

At 38-years old, the numbers show Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is off to the best start of his NHL career.

Khabibulin has won his last six games, his longest winning streak in his two-plus seasons with the Oilers and the most by an Edmonton goaltender since Dwayne Roloson won six straight games in November 2006. The last time Khabibulin had a run like this was in November-December 2008, when he won seven in a row while playing for Chicago.

Though Khabibulin came into this season with 316 career wins and a Stanley Cup (with Tampa Bay in 2004), to say his performance so far this season came out of nowhere would be understating the case.

On the way to final totals of 10-32-4 with a 3.40 GAA and .890 save percentage last season, Khabibulin was 3-5-1 in his first nine games with a 3.00 GAA and a save percentage of .907. A season earlier, he was 5-3-1 after nine games, with a .902 save percentage. Even in 2003-04, his best season statistically and one that ended with him hoisting the Cup, he was 7-1-1 after nine games with a 1.98 GAA and .922 save percentage.

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