Power Rankings: Oilers ride stunning start to No. 5

by | CBSSports.com NHL Blogger

Nikolai Khabibulin leads the NHL in overall save percentage and goals against average. (Getty Images)  
Nikolai Khabibulin leads the NHL in overall save percentage and goals against average. (Getty Images)  

Updated Oct. 31

If you told me before the season the Edmonton Oilers would close out their October schedule with a 7-2-2 record and own the top spot in the Northwest Division, I would definitely have been surprised. Maybe not completely shocked, but surprised.

After all, it's not like this team is lacking in talent. They have an impressive group of young forwards anchored by the past two No. 1 overall picks in the NHL draft -- Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- as well as Jordan Eberle. Combine them with veterans like Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky (even if he's currently sidelined) and what appeared to be a questionable defense and goaltending situation, and I might have guessed they were winning a lot of high-scoring, run-and-gun hockey games.

But they're not. The truly shocking thing about Edmonton's start isn't so much that the Oilers are winning, it's how they're winning. As the calendar rolls over to November, the Oilers are currently sitting at the top of the NHL by allowing just 1.4 goals per game. Better than Boston. Better than Pittsburgh. Better than Nashville. Better than Vancouver. Better than everybody.

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They have done it without the services of their No. 1 defenseman, Ryan Whitney, for all but four games of the season, and a blue line that has been anchored by Tom Gilbert, Corey Potter, Ladislav Smid and Cam Barker, which isn't exactly a murderers' row of top-pairing NHL defensemen.

They have done it with the goaltending of Nikolai Khabibulin, who was expected to lose the starting job to youngster Devan Dubnyk coming into the season. Khabibulin ends October leading the league (among qualifying goalies, according to NHL.com) in overall save percentage and goals against average, and trails only Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in even strength save percentage.

It doesn't make sense, and I have no idea how long it's going to last, but it's been fun to watch, and it's launched the Oilers all the way up into the top-five of our rankings or the week.


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