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Oilers - Kings Post-Game: KHABIBULIN!

Derek Leung

At this point in the Nikolai Khabibulin epoch, we Oilers fans know what we're going to get. Once or twice a year, the Maginot Line has 30 shots bounce off his blocker and people annoit him the team MVP/quality veteran starter/useful experienced backup, decreasing with every season his utter pustulence has imposed itself upon us. Then optimism reigns supreme, Khabibulin goes in again, and the world burns. Widows weep salt tears onto the parched earth where Rexall Place once stood, destroyed in the implosion as the Black Hole of the Urals consumed all we love in the fires of his eternally dismal goaltending. Around the world, hockey fans realize they will never again know either happiness or love, and cast themselves from bridges in droves. Then the coach says "well, Dubnyk can only play so many" and starts Khabibulin again and the whole process begins anew.

Derek Zona will blame the last-minute winner on Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for being soft western Canadians who are more interested in scoring goals than gritty work in the corners and mucky defense which wins good European teams championships. But ultimately job 101 of any goalie when facing a tricky shot from that position is "get down and cover the five-hole you jackass" and, well, ol' Nikolai let one through the wickets like a drunk, washed-up living nightmare who was never that good and is now so bad I want to scrape my eyes out with a fistful of dirty syringes.

Even if you want to blame Eberle for Khabibulin's inability to master the butterfly, the first goal was even worse. Smother your rebounds you goddamned souse! Actually, don't allow rebounds that terrible at all! Go swallow a bottle full of Tylenol 3s and play on a construction site in the night! I hate Nikolai Khabibulin! I hate him more than getting hit in the face with a sock full of pennies!

(Note: obviously Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins also played pretty badly. Also, Taylor Hall needs to take some of the energy he puts into cannonballing and put it into practicing breakaways, or holding the zone; nice drop pass to Sam Gagner though. But that goes against my narrative which is die Khabibulin die.)

If I were to calm down, I would note that it's hardly humiliating to lose a close-ish game to the defending Stanley Cup champions. After all, the Kings run out players like Colin Fraser, Jarret Stoll, and Dustin Penner who the Oilers just can't get. Eric Belanger and an aging Ryan Smyth are no comparison. The Kings are good, and Khabibulin aside the Oilers were in the game or near it for most of the sixty minutes. The first half of the first period, in particular, was the sort of excellent shove-the-puck-so-far-down-their-throats-it-comes-out-the-other-end staggering quick and talented transition and offensive zone play that we all dream of from the Oilers with their high-powered forwards and their also-ran defense, and it's just a pity the Kings had an actual NHL goaltender around.

Also from the non-Khabibulin front, Edmonton was outshot 37-24. That is problematic. There wasn't a defenseman in the lineup who didn't get mauled for at least a shift or two; yeah, Ales Hemsky beat Keaton Ellerby like a bad guy on American TV but it wasn't enough. The Oilers' shoddy defending cost them buckets of chances, and here I will permit the usual suspects to leap up and excoriate Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, et al for failing to prevent elite NHL forward Jeff Carter from using his stick to apply a minuscule deflection to the puck.

Yet the game wasn't so good that we can look on the bright side: the Oilers were still pretty much outplayed and looked a couple strides behind the pace for about fifty minutes. Hall's inadvertently hilarious breakaway aside, there were no goalposts or chances the Oil were unlucky not to bury. All the goals before the empty-netter were absolute stinkers and Nikolai Khabibulin was responsible. I should probably just keep that sentence on my clipboard because by God over the past few years I've needed it. The only consolation of these games is that in the long run we are all dead.