EDMONTON – A pair of stellar performances by Anton Khudobin has helped the Minnesota Wild get through their recent goaltending woes.
Khudobin stopped 31 shots before being beaten by a late Magnus Paajarvi power-play goal as the Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 Tuesday.
Khudobin, who blanked Vancouver on Sunday, was just under four minutes away from recording his second career shutout in as many games.
“I have a lot of confidence right now,” said the 24-year-old, called up from Minnesota’s American Hockey League affiliate in Houston due to hip injuries to both Jose Theodore and Niklas Backstrom. “It’s a really good feeling to win games like that. The guys are playing very well in front of me and helping me a lot. I don’t really care that much about the shutout. The W is better for me.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns each had a goal and an assist and Matt Cullen and Andrew Brunette also scored for the Wild (23-19-5) who have bounced back with a pair of wins after a three-game losing skid. Minnesota has six wins in its last nine games.
“It’s huge to start off a road trip with a win like this,” said Wild captain Mikko Koivu. “We took too many penalties. But the points are what matters.”
The Oilers (14-24-7) have lost three in a row and 12 of their last 14.
Edmonton head coach Tom Renney feels there is a real danger that his young team could start to question themselves instead of making progress for the future.
“We’re in 15th place in the Western Conference and second last in the league so there is a danger of that, no question,” he said. “But as a coaching staff and an organization we have to continue to grow these people through tough experiences. We’re going to coach our butts off to help these guys win, and win properly. Until we get that right we are going to have nights like these.”
Veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin said the team has to turn things around quickly.
“We’ve got to start winning,” he said. “And to start winning, we have to stop doing some of the things we’re doing and start to do the right things for the whole game. We’ve got to work together. The worst thing you can do is point fingers at each other. You have to support each other and trust each other.”
Khabibulin started for Edmonton while Devan Dubnyk remained in the dressing room with an illness, a cause for concern as Khabibulin allowed two goals on four shots before the game was three and a half minutes old.
The Wild opened the scoring just 1:39 in as Eric Nystrom hit a streaking Cullen on his way to the net, and Cullen backhanded his own rebound past Khabibulin.
Burns made it 2-0 less than two minutes later as his point shot went through a sea of legs and into the Edmonton net. The defenceman with Cal Clutterbuck for the team lead in scoring with 13 goals.
The Oilers’ anemic power play had a chance to get them back into the game with a long two-man advantage midway through the second period but was unable to capitalize, recording only one shot.
The news only got worse for the Oilers in the scoreless second as Ales Hemsky, Edmonton’s lone representative in the all-star game, left with a concussion and did not return.
Minnesota went up 3-0 midway through the third as Edmonton defenceman Tom Gilbert lost the puck to Nystrom behind the Oiler net. Nystrom got the puck out front to Bouchard, who undressed Khabibulin with a nice move for just his third of the season.
The Wild put the game out of reach two minutes later on the power play as Brunette kicked a rebound to his stick and scored his 12th of the year.
Edmonton had a chance to break Khudobin’s shutout bid as Ladislav Smid had an empty net to shoot for after a good feed from Paajarvi but the shot hit a stick and deflected safely away.
The Oilers finally scored with 3:46 to play as Paajarvi took a feed in the slot and beat the Khudobin with a shot to the top corner.
It was a significant goal for the team as the Oilers had failed to score a power-play goal in their previous 11 games, a string that saw them go 0-44. The longest streak without a power play goal this season was the New York Islanders, who went 12 games. Those streaks are the longest since New Jersey went 13 games without a power-play goal in the 2002-2003 season.
The Wild play the second of a four-game trip in Calgary on Wednesday. Edmonton next plays host to Dallas on Thursday.
Notes: It was the third of six meetings between the two teams. Minnesota won the first two, both by 4-2 scores…The Oilers are now officially without defenceman Ryan Whitney for the remainder of the season after he underwent surgery on his right ankle in Charlotte, N.C. on Monday…Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff hopes to be back with the team this week after being out with a knee injury since Dec. 7…Both Backstrom and Theodore made the Western trip, with Backstrom serving as backup in Edmonton and Theodore pronouncing himself at about 85 per cent ready to go…Khudobin came into the game coming off recording his first ever shutout on Sunday, stopping 32 shots in a 4-0 victory over Vancouver … Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard recorded his 200th NHL assist in the first period.