Oilers-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 04, 2011
The Edmonton Oilers' offensive production has dipped slightly from the last two seasons when the club finished at the bottom of the NHL standings. But with the league's top goaltending, Edmonton is among the NHL's best teams so far and off to its quickest start in 25 years. Former Phoenix Coyotes star Nikolai Khabibulin will likely make his first start in Arizona in nearly three years Saturday night when the Oilers look to win seven in a row for the first time in a decade. Among the worst in the NHL in goals (2.42) and shots per game (27.5) over the past two seasons, the Oilers (8-2-2) are averaging just 2.25 goals and 26.0 shots this fall. However, with Khabibulin making 19 saves in Thursday's 3-0 victory at Los Angeles and improving to 6-0-2 with a league-best 0.98 goals-against average, Edmonton is yielding an NHL-low 1.33 goals per game. "Khabby played excellent and shut the door," Ryan Smyth said after scoring for the fourth time in three games. That hasn't been the case the last two seasons. Khabibulin was 10-32-4 with a 3.40 GAA in 2010-11, and he missed all but 18 games the previous season - his first with Edmonton - following back surgery. "I definitely feel a lot better," he said Thursday after posting his 45th career shutout. "After the surgery last year I was sore and achy, and I thought that was the way I was supposed to feel." With Edmonton off to its best start since winning eight of 12 to open 1986-87, there's a good chance Khabibulin will be in net as the club tries to win seven straight for the first time since a nine-game run Feb. 20-March 13, 2001. Khabibulin has had some rough times in Arizona but also his share of great moments. He was traded from Phoenix in 2001 following a contract dispute that led to him sitting out 1999-2000, and he spent time in the Maricopa County Jail this summer for a drunk driving conviction. However, the four-time All-Star is tied for the Coyotes franchise record with 21 shutouts and is third with 126 wins. Khabibulin is 9-4-1 with a 1.91 GAA against his former team but hasn't played in Phoenix since a 3-2 shootout victory Nov. 18, 2008, while with Chicago. The Coyotes' new No. 1 goaltender is Mike Smith, who replaced Ilya Bryzgalov, but it's uncertain if he will be in net as this season series begins. Smith has won his last three starts while allowing six goals, but he has a 4.26 GAA in two career appearances against Edmonton. Backup Jason LaBarbera is 5-0-0 with a 1.20 GAA versus the Oilers. He was solid Thursday in his first start since Oct. 18, making 28 saves in a 3-0 loss to Nashville. Phoenix (6-4-2), though, went 0 for 3 on the power play as its season-high three-game winning streak ended. "Barbs played unbelievable for us, but we have to find ways to generate power plays and get some opportunities on the power play," captain Shane Doan said of a unit that is 2 for 23 in the last eight contests. The Coyotes' special teams could take a hit if center Martin Hanzal - tied for second on the team with two power-play assists - misses a second straight game with a lower-body injury. Ray Whitney, who has a team-high 12 points, led the club with seven points versus Edmonton last season when Phoenix won three of four. The Oilers snapped a four-game skid in Arizona in their last visit, a 4-3 victory Jan. 25.
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