Reasons To Be Cheerful

Gotta get back in time...to October. Photo: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Where has October gone?  We miss 9-3-2.  Can we go back in time?

It’s easy to get frustrated as a fan of this team.  But even as the team just dropped a cinder block of a game in Phoenix, another in Calgary, and two heartbreakers against San Jose and Detroit, this is the best time in a long time to be a fan of this team.

Things are looking up.  After last year, they couldn’t be looking much more down.

With that ‘glass half full’ philosophy in tow, we’ll take a look at some of the things that (right now) make us happy to be Oiler fans.  I’ll start with an easy one today…

Khabibulin: Photo courtesy John Ulan / AP

Other than the emergence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, has there been a bigger story on this year’s Oilers than the resurgent play of Nikolai Khabibulin?

Khabibulin is still playing out of his mind right now.  He sits at 10-8-3 with a 2.05 GAA to go along with a sparkling SV% of .931.  Usually, I’d like to have a stat handy that shows a reason for such a dramatic change of events.   In this case, there really isn’t one.  It’s a pretty clear cut case of Khabibulin being in front of more pucks than he was over the previous season.

I don’t have an explanation as to why he’s experienced such a turnaround compared to last season, but it’s a welcome change that’s been long overdue.

Put it this way:  It’s the 21st of December, and Khabibulin has as many wins so far this year as he did for all of last year.  For our new fans, the hockey season has ritualistically lasted until April over the past five years in Edmonton.  Khabibulin has done more than his fair share in keeping the Oilers in games they really had no business being in, like this one.

How good has Nikolai Khabibulin been so far this season?

6th in SV% among goalies with 10+ games. Photo courtesy NHL.com

As of 21 December, Nikolai Khabibulin is sixth overall in the league in SV% among goaltenders who have played at least ten games (Tuukka Rask has played 11).  Khabibulin finished last season with a .890 SV%, which wouldn’t put him in the top 40 this year.  Quite the turnaround.  And GAA?  Khabibulin is seventh among players with at least 10 GP, with a solid 2.05 GAA.  (Rask played in 11, JS Giguere played in 12).

While the Oilers haven’t been plastering wins up as of late, it’s relieving to see Khabibulin get some success after two very bad years in Oil City.  When Khabibulin is on top of his game like he is now, he gives the Oilers a good enough chance to win each and every game.

If the Oilers can get Tambi Claus to get them a defenceman for Christmas, maybe tune down the shots allowed by 8 per game, and score one more goal per sixty minutes, the first half of 2012 might be a lot more fun than this.  Oh, and Khabibulin needs to keep performing at this level, a very tall order.

That’s a big Christmas list, I know.

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Topics: Nikolai Khabibulin

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