EDMONTON – Nikolai Khabibulin isn’t ready to give up the Edmonton Oilers’ starting goaltending job just yet.
The 38-year-old Russian goalie stopped 19 shots and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and an assist as the Oilers blanked the New York Rangers 2-0 on Saturday.
It was the 44th career shutout for Khabibulin who came into the game first in the NHL with a goals against average of 0.95 and second in save percentage with a .962 mark.
“I didn’t expect anything from myself other than a good effort from myself and to fight for playing time,” said the goalie, who spent time in jail in Arizona this summer for a drunk-driving conviction. “It’s nice that it has started this way. It’s nicer to start well than to not start well and to be trying to catch up all year.”
Oilers head coach Tom Renney has been impressed with the veteran goalie, who has been splitting starts with young goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
“He was good tonight and has been everything we had hoped he would be,” he said. “We’re certainly satisfied with his play.”
Corey Potter also scored for the Oilers, who snapped a two-game slide and improved to 3-2-2 after late collapses cost them the two previous games.
The Rangers (2-2-2) saw a two-game win streak end.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella was clearly displeased with the game when he brushed past media.
“We sucked from head to toe,” he said. “I’m not going to dissect it with you guys.”
New York also saw star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist leave the game late in the third period. He was replaced by Martin Biron who made three saves.
Lundqvist said after the game that it was a problem with the equipment in his skate that was causing him pain, and that it shouldn’t be something that will cause him to miss games in the future.
“It was bothering me the whole game,” he said. “We tried to fix it during the intermission. In the end it was just too painful. It’s a little sore now, but tomorrow I will be fine.”
The game remained scoreless after an Oiler-dominated first period.
New York had its best chance six minutes in as Ruslan Fedotenko picked off a flubbed pass deep in Edmonton territory but was thwarted on a quick toe save by Khabibulin.
The Oilers buzzed the New York net from there, out-shooting the Rangers 11-4 in the opening period.
Edmonton’s best opportunity came with seven minutes left in the first as Ryan Smyth made a nice behind-the-back pass to Magnus Paajarvi on the doorstep, but Lundqvist got across to make a spectacular kick save.
New York evened up the play to start the second and came close to scoring the game’s first goal seven minutes in as Marian Gaborik just barely steered a shot wide while being knocked down in front of the net.
The Oilers finally got the game’s first goal just past the mid-mark as Taylor Hall made a drop pass to Nugent-Hopkins, and this summer’s first-overall NHL draft pick rifled a puck into the top corner for his fifth of the season.
Edmonton killed off a long two-man disadvantage with three minutes left in the period to maintain the one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
The Oilers went up 2-0 four minutes into the third on a power play goal as Nugent-Hopkins fed it back to Potter at the point and the former Rangers farmhand blasted his second career NHL goal past Lundqvist.
Potter, a 27-year-old defenceman, has been a surprisingly strong player for the Oilers this season after being brought in by Renney, who was familiar with him during his own tenure coaching in New York.
“I had never even heard of him before this year,”Khabibulin said.“But he has stepped in and been very effective.”
The Rangers will conclude their season-starting seven-game road trip in Winnipeg on Monday. The Oilers remain at home to face Vancouver on Tuesday.
Notes: It was the Rangers’first appearance in Edmonton in close to two years. The Rangers crushed the Oilers 8-2 when the two teams clashed in New York last November. … Oiler forward Sam Gagner made his season debut, returning from a shoulder injury. Gagner shifted over from centre to play right wing on the third line, taking the placeof Linus Omark. … New York forward Wojtek Wolski has been cleared to play following his groin injury, but was a healthy scratch against Edmonton. … Much has been made of the youth movement on the Oilers, but surprisingly the Rangers have the younger team. The average age on the Oilers is 26.76, while the Rangers are 26.68. … Including the playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist has started 36 consecutive games for New York.