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Khabibulin and the Oilers: Just Call Me Valdez

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It's been a bad 12 months for the Edmonton Oilers. The same could be said for Nikolai Khabibulin. The two have taken downturns that are strikingly similar. Follow the timeline:

May 7, 2009 – The Oilers, despite being out-shot 40-18, pull off a 4-1 victory on the road. It's their 33rd win of the season, giving them 70 points total with 17 games left to play. They're fighting for a playoff spot, but they're in the thick of the race.

May 15, 2009 – Khabibulin gives up four goals in an ugly loss to the Islanders, but makes Blackhawks fans excited to have their stud goaltender back from a groin injury for what should be a deep playoff run.

April 11, 2009 – The Oilers drop their season finale to the Calgary Flames, helping the Flames solidify their playoff spot and leaving themselves seven points shy of the postseason.

May 27, 2009 – The Blackhawks season finally comes to an end. Khabibulin turns in another great postseason, leading the Hawks all the way to the Conference Finals before running into the Detroit Red Wings juggernaut.

July 1st, 2009 – The Oilers give Khabibulin a four year, $15 million contract to become their starting goaltender.

November 18, 2009 – Khabibulin misses his first game of the season, a 6-4 victory for Edmonton. The team's record isn't great (8-10-3), but things are looking up. Twenty-three-year-old Gilbert Brule is on pace for 20 goals and 40 points, and he's only 5th on the team in scoring.

December 11, 2009 – Khabibulin is still out with some as-yet-unknown low back injury. Behind the remarkable play of rookie goaltender Jeff Deslauriers, the Oilers win their fifth road game in nine days, pushing their record over .500 and making themselves into an early-season surprise.

January 13, 2010 – Khabibulin announces that he will be having surgery to fix what was discovered to be a herniated disc in his lower back, and will likely miss most if not all of the remaining regular season. This news comes the day after the Oilers lose for the 12th time in their last 13 games.

February 17, 2010 – During the first weekend of the Olympic break, Khabibulin is pulled over for speeding and booked on DUI charges as well. The Oilers are three days removed from closing out pre-olympic hockey with their 25th loss in 29 games.

Flash forward to today. Edmonton has won their last two games, but it's a hollow time as they still sit two points shy of becoming the last team in the league to break 50 points. Deslauriers has been a revelation, even if he hasn't been great every night, but the offense has disappeared.

Dustin Penner is one of ten forwards on the team to have played at least 45 games to this point in the season, but he is the only player with more than 14 goals, and even he has yet to hit 50 points on the season after being on pace for nearly 100 earlier in the year.

Khabibulin, on the other hand, is in even deeper water. It was announced a week ago that, due to his BAC being over 0.15, the law is taking it's liberties and charging him with extreme drunken driving, which could carry a jail sentence of up to six months if he is convicted.

I know the Oilers have been hurt this year, and between players like Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray it has cost them offense, but given the events of this past year, perhaps there's a much bigger problem to blame. The Oilers are too young and too talented to be this bad.

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