And just like the Prodigal Son I've returned...
--House Of Pain, "Jump Around"
Nikolai Khabibulin returns to the ice tonight for the first time since November of 2009. Even though he's not played in ten months, he's never left the headlines. He's had a back injury, back surgery, news that he had similar back troubles in Chicago, he was arrested in Arizona for driving twenty-five miles over the speed limit with a BAC of twice the legal limit. His trial for the DUI was twice delayed, then he was convicted and later sentenced to thirty days in Tent City in Maricopa County, AZ. In what was supposed to be a summer of rebirth and rebuild, the old goaltender was a constant reminder of the realities of the current state of the Edmonton Oilers.
And now he's back. When he showed up at camp, he "wasn't ready" for preseason action, but after a week of workouts, it's time continue the Khabibulin experiment, if only for a short time. If Khabibulin stays healthy through the rest of the preseason he'll be suspended by the league to start the regular season. Mark Bell was suspended fifteen games for his DUI and hit-and-run in 2007, but Khabibulin (luckily) didn't hit anyone while driving drunk. If the NHL uses that as a guide, Khabibulin will probably be served with a five game suspension.
With 100% support from Steve Tambellini, Khabibulin has managed to stay in the good graces of the vast majority of the fanbase and I suspect his return to the lineup will be received with much fanfare and the typical adulation afforded to anything Oiler by the average Oiler fan. Tambellini has taken every opportunity given to him this summer to call "Nik" the OIlers' "MVP before he was injured", and he's made it known that Khabibulin is his guy, therefore the Oilers' fortunes in goal rest on the Russian's flukey groin and wonky back.
The Nikolai Khabibulin saga will continue for three more years.
Tonight's lineup, as per EdmontonOilers.com
Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Penner - Brule - Omark
Aulin - Ondrus - Giroux
Hartikainen - Vande Velde - Stortini
Whitney - Petry
Peckham - Vandermeer
Strudwick - Motin
Some random thoughts on tonight's game:
- It's unlikely that any of the borderline players on this roster other than Linus Omark have a chance at stealing a roster spot. Omark is getting an opportunity to skate with skill players for the first time in a game situation, so either Renney is seeing something he likes in Omark and has promoted him, or this is a last audition for Omark to see if he can fit on a somewhat-proven line. If he does have a good night, it could spell trouble for the hopes of Alexandre Giroux, who was completely underwhelming against the Canucks.
- For the second game, both against Vancouver, Jeff Petry is paired with Ryan Whitney on the top pairing. Petry should be the defenseman closest to being NHL-ready, perhaps even more so than Theo Peckham, and he's getting every opportunity to show exactly where he belongs in the pecking order. Another strong game from Petry tonight might put him in the running for the sixth or seventh defenseman, but it's unlikely.
- I would suspect that this is the last time we'll see Teemu Hartikainen before he heads to Oklahoma City. Ben pointed out his skating deficiencies and there are too many people in front of him on the depth chart that have a similar games with better skating ability.
- Peckham and Vandermeer have been attached at the hip during training camp, so it's not a stretch to pencil these two in as the 3rd pairing when the season starts. As I said above, Petry has a chance to grab the last spot, but if he does, it will likely be at the expense of Jason Strudwick, not Peckham, who is waiver eligible. If you'd like a glimpse into the Oilers' possible pugnacious third pairing, watch them closely tonight. In their last game, they were able to win the puck, but struggled to move it up ice. It looks quite similar to the Staios / Smid pairing from the last few years.
- Johan Motin is getting no favors from the coaching staff. His first preseason appearance comes while riding shotgun for Jason Strudwick. Strudwick did no favors for Taylor Chorney's development, so it's doubtful that Strudwick is going to help to elevate Motin this preseason.
- How much time is the career AHL line of Ondrus- Aulin - Giroux going to get tonight and why are they together as a line?
- Finally, will Khabibulin stay healthy for thirty minutes?