Nikolai Khabibulin is a 38-year-old goalie whose best years are behind him, backstopping a team comprised mostly of 20-somethings whose best years are too far in front of them to imagine the old puckstopper joining in the fun when the Edmonton Oilers finally get it together. All he has is the here and now. And the here and now isn't pretty. On Saturday, it was hideous. There are times in every rebuild that will try the patience of the paying public and this was surely the most obvious, at least as home games go, after the Oilers hand-delivered two points to an Ottawa Senators team that on most nights is severely outclassed. Khabibulin and the Oilers lost to a team that came into Edmonton on its own 11-game skid, a team that lost its captain to injury and one of its heart-and-soul players, Mike Fisher, to the Nashville Predators, a team backstopped by its own struggling goalie, a team looking every bit as if its players wouldn't care all that much if its humourless coach was fired. Logic demands the 30th-place team is not allowed to take any opponent or game for granted, until the uber-awful Senators come to town. Then all bets are off. But not even a home game against a weak sister on Hockey Day in Canada could improve the Oilers' odds. Khabibulin yakked up two goals on the first two Senators' shots and the die was cast for his 14th straight loss. And get this, he wasn't even their worst player, bouncing back to stop 20 of 22 shots from that point onward. Defenceman Tom Gilbert had a dreadful day in his own zone and it was his giveaway that led to the first Ottawa goal. The trio of Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark combined to go minus-six with five shots on goal and one point. They were culpable as a group, too, taking a handful of needless penalties and just 18 shots on the Ottawa net. "We haven't been good for him when he's been in the net," said Dustin Penner. "If I was playing net, I'd want to stop the first 10, you know, instead of the last 10. You know what I mean? No matter how they get in, if they're great goals or unlucky, the first two, I think that's tough for anybody to deal with, especially considering the circumstances. But like you said, he's an old pro and he'll bounce back." On Saturday, his dreadful start was explained away as bad bounces. Fine. Bounces happen and the Rexall Place ice isn't nearly as consistent as it used to be. But there have been just as many occasions lately when the Bulin Wall has looked much more like the Brandenburg Gate.
Bulin Wall now a gate
Edmonton Journal | Feb 13