DALLAS, TX - After a day off on Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers returned to the ice Wednesday for an afternoon practice at the American Airlines Center.
The news of the day came early in the morning when the Oilers announced that Nikolai Khabibulin was being placed on the injured reserve. Yann Danis was called up from nearby Oklahoma City and joined the team at practice.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said that Khabibulin had initially tweaked his groin in the shootout on Saturday against Phoenix but he recovered from that prior to Monday's contest in Chicago.
"On the last play of the game, when he went across on Sharp's second shot in OT before the Hossa triple rebound he felt the same kind of tweak (that he had in Phoenix) so initially we thought it was going to run the same course, that it was going to go away but as we traveled on the plane and we arrived yesterday he was inactive for awhile and it got cold. It was quite clear that it was worse than after the Phoenix game and as a result we're going to send him home for an assessment. He'll get proper medical care there to have an MRI."
Because the Oilers are carrying the maximum amount of skaters, in order to call up Danis the team needed to make a roster move. With Khabibulin heading back to Edmonton, it made sense to put him on injured reserve to free up that spot.
"We put him on IR so that gives us one week minimum. Yes, he could be back on this trip if everything went optimally but we're going to take our time on this one as we got a first warning in Phoenix. It is an injury that was just slight but did get worse."
Krueger said that he wasn't worried about the injury given Khabibulin's ability to bounce back from prior injuries on a regular basis.
"It's not worrisome. He's just been amazing in his recoveries. We need to monitor it, he's given us some good games. We've got a good duo here and are exciting to have Dubie back in but we have to take it very seriously and as a result we're very slow to move on him being active. We really want this to be dealt with properly. We need Khabi back."
Khabibulin spoke to the media after practice.
"I felt it a little bit in the goal in overtime when Sharp took it across. It was okay after the game but the next morning it was a little bit more sore. We checked it out and they want me to see the doctors," he said.
Considering how well Khabibulin had been playing this season, with a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.11 and save percentage of .935, he admitted that this setback is frustrating for him.
"It's frustrating because I felt I was starting to get more comfortable and starting to get a little playing time. It's almost like a setback. Hopefully it's not going to be too long but I have to go through practices and workouts and practices to get ready again for the next time."
Khabibulin's save percentage ranked him in a tie with Ottawa's Ben Bishop for third in the NHL in that category. He also ranks in the top 10 in the NHL for GAA.
With the injury to Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk will return between the pipes on Thursday for his first action in a week.
"There's never been anything but a confidence in both goaltenders," said Krueger. "It was a stomach feeling on Khabibulin in Chicago with his past there. With the energy he took out of winning the (shootout), it was nothing more than that. Devan Dubnyk has been excellent for us this year. He had some really strange bounces in his last game but we've never seen anything but an excellent duo and Devan Dubnyk is fresh and ready to go with this challenge ahead."
Dubnyk's last start was a 3-1 loss at Rexall Place against the Minnesota Wild. He stated that he was looking forward to getting back in between the pipes.
"It's a good opportunity to get lots of games in here. Obviously, I was ready to go anyway but Khabi was playing great so there's nothing wrong with that when a guy gets going like that. We need the points, especially in the short season. It's fine by me but certainly looking forward to playing lots here."
Dubnyk also said that while he wasn't hoping for a week off, he did take it as an opportunity to work on his game with the added practice time.
"You have to look at any situation as a good one. Do I want a week off? No, but if I'm going to get one and Khabi's playing great like that then that's fine. I'll take the week off to work on some things in practice. In a short season we won't get a lot of practice so it's an opportunity to go out there and work on some things you might not get a chance to work on."
WHIRLWIND 8 HOURS FOR DANIS
Yann Danis didn't have a lot of time to pack and prepare for what could be a very lengthy time on the road with the Oilers. He was between the pipes three hours up the road in Oklahoma City last night helping the Barons to a 3-2 win over Dallas' AHL affiliate the Texas Stars, stopping 21 of 23 shots. After the game he was told to be on an early morning flight for Dallas.
"I was told right after the game last night. I had a 6:45 flight this morning," said Danis, noting he hasn't been told how long he might be with the team. "I really don't know. I'm going to take it one game at a time."
Danis said that the Barons season has been inconsistent since a good chunk of the roster migrated north at the end of the NHL lockout.
"It's been up and down," he said. "We won last night but we're struggling a little bit with consistency. We haven't won three, four games in a row. It's always win one or two then lose one or two."
The Barons are tied for ninth in the Western Conference, two points behind Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot. Danis said he was happy to be back in the NHL.
"Obviously this is where I want to be. Every time I get a chance to be here I take full advantage of it and keep myself ready. If the team needs me to go, I'll be ready."
Krueger was non-committal when asked whether Danis might see some action on this trip, particularly with several back-to-back situations with the first coming this Friday in St. Louis.
"Every single day we're going to try to do what's best on that day for us and after the game we'll assess and go day-to-day. I have no idea who's going to be playing games two, three, four, five, six. Right now Devan is ready to go and hopefully everything goes properly so he can hold this net for awhile."
With the addition of Taylor Hall who is returning from suspension, there will be a shake up to the forward lines from the past two contests.
On the third line, Ryan Smyth was skating with Eric Belanger and Nail Yakupov while Ben Eager, Chris VandeVelde and Lennart Petrell made up the fourth unit. Magnus Paajarvi was subbing in on the right side with Gagner and Jones.
It was not apparent which of the final two pairings will make the cut tomorrow night and Coach Krueger did not tip his hand.
"We will announce our lineup tomorrow morning. We've had a couple of days and want to assess the total situation. Steve Smith's been allowed to stay with his family (in Chicago), he's coming in in a few hours here and I'll sit down with him and we'll call that lineup in the morning tomorrow."
If Fistric plays, he remarked that he is looking forward to facing his old team but admitted it is strange to be in the visitors room.
"It's a little awkward, coming in here on the other side, other bench. It kind of felt surreal going out there and having a practice as an Oiler and not as a Star," he began. "I spent a lot of time here and enjoyed my years here."
Ryan Whitney has been a healthy scratch in seven of the last 11 games and was hoping for the opportunity to return to the lineup soon, perhaps tomorrow. He remarked that while he might be upset about the situation he has made a point to not let it affect his attitude when interacting with his teammates.
"I don't necessarily agree with not playing and I want to play but at the same time I'm not going to try to make it a sideshow or anything like that. I've got really good friends on this time who I root for every night when we play. As pissed off as I am, it's not just about me really."
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com with files from Tom Gazzola & Jack Michaels
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