Nikolai Khabibulin’s Netminding Making All The Noise

Via ESPN’s Cross Checks Blog

A tip of the old blocker to veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, whose career looked to be in shambles both physically and emotionally after last season. The veteran netminder was hampered by ongoing back issues, then was arrested for extreme drunken driving in the Phoenix area while rehabbing in February 2010.

Khabibulin ultimately was sentenced to 30 days in Arizona’s famous “Tent City” jail. (He was released after spending two weeks there.) At the time, we suggested the league should have stepped in and added its own penalty to Khabibulin for having endangered the lives of not just himself but also anyone who happened to be on the streets at the time he was driving with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal maximum in Arizona. The league chose not to go that route, and those close to Khabibulin told us we had been unfair in our criticism; he paid his penance, and the worst penalty was the shame of having his teenage daughter read about the incident and the fallout. Khabibulin said as much to reporters when he reported for training camp in Edmonton.

Was there a better way for Khabibulin to show he is rehabilitated than by producing the kind of goaltending he had showed in Tampa Bay, where he became the first Russian-trained netminder to win a Stanley Cup in 2004, or in Chicago, where he helped a young Hawks team to a surprise berth in the Western Conference finals in 2009? So far, so good for Khabibulin and the youthful Oilers, who are trying to accelerate a painful rebuild process.

The Bulin Wall was on display again Tuesday, as the Oilers chased Roberto Luongo with three early goals, then hung on for a 3-2 victory over Vancouver with Khabibulin making 35 saves. He is now 3-0-2 with a .963 save percentage and a minuscule 0.97 goals-against average. At age 38, Khabibulin has given himself and the Oilers a new, unexpected boost early on this season.

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