The Iron Mask: The numbers are deceiving, Khabibulin in midst of bounce-back season

It would be fair to suggest that coming into the 2010-11 season, goaltending was one of the primary concerns for most Oilers fans. While the year was dedicated to growth and development, the lack of clarity in the crease presented some uneasiness regarding the future in goal.

After all, Edmonton’s number one netminder was relegated to only 18 games last season before being sidelined with a season-ending back injury, and neither Jeff Deslauriers or Devan Dubnyk had truly grabbed hold of the opportunity to secure the backup role and establish themselves as the future between the pipes. To further cloud the situation, Khabibulin’s off-season legal issues presented an interesting dilemma as the season began.

Now 30 games into the season and the painting couldn’t be clearer. Nikolai Khabibulin, despite suffering a minor setback in late November, has returned to the crease in fine form. Devan Dubnyk stepped up and earned the backup role with a strong pre-season and his ever-evolving practice habits.

Statistically, the numbers haven’t been on Khabibulin’s side. In the 2010-11 campaign, Khabibulin boasts a 3.49 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. In most situations, many wouldn’t correlate these numbers with a successful, MVP-like season.

It is, however, important to consider the other factors that have helped contribute to these skewed statistics. It’s one of the many circumstances where looking at the numbers alone will result in a deceiving conclusion.

Prior to his late-November groin strain that sidelined the goaltender for a brief period, Khabibulin had a below .900 save percentage in nine of his 15 games; a troubling statistic, no doubt. However, a closer inspection helps to reveal why.

Of course, it has always been a common saying that your goaltender needs to be your best penalty killer. While this is certainly true, Khabibulin wasn’t receiving much help.

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