With the season Nikolai Khabibulin had to endure last year, you knew he would be looking forward to getting back in to the nets for the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately, his performance in the Oilers home pre-season opener did not look like much had changed. The veteran netminder was beat on three of the first seven shots he faced and before the first period was done, Minnesota had a 3-0 lead. To the Oilers credit, they fought back in the second period to tie it up but eventually lost 4-3 on a late third period goal by Edmonton boy Jared Spurgeon.
Edmonton's second period resurgence was led by the clubs Swedish trio, as both Magnus Paajarvi and rookie Anton Lander scored for the Oilers. Paajarvi & Lander were noticeable all night long, while linemate Linus Omark wasn't as fortunate. Omark proceeded to give the puck away on his first shift of the game and took two minor penalites before the first period was done. While he showed moments of quality play, picking up an assist on the night, his overall game was lacking and quite frankly, he needs to be better. He has an opportunity to secure an important role on the team for the coming season but he is in no position to just float around and go through the motions during training camp. I am as big a supporter of Omark as you will find but he needs to be much better. Lander on the other hand, seems to be making the most of his opportunity. While it would be a shock for him to make the club out of camp, he seems determined to make it a very tough decision on the organization.
Which brings me back to Khabibulin. I fully expect the Russian goalie to bounce back with a good season but last night was not a good opening act. While Deavn Dubynk was keeping the other split squad group in the game early in Saskatoon, Khabibulin could not accomplish the same feat on home ice. Allowing three goals in your first exhibition start is usually no big deal for a veteran goalie but after last seasons effort, it was not how he wanted to start thing off. If he has another stinker in the pre-season, we could see some doubts creep into his head about his game but it is still too early to go down that road.
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