EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) - Nikolai Khabibulin is making quite a claim to the Edmonton Oilers' starting goalie job.
The 38-year-old Russian netminder stopped 19 shots in his 44th NHL shutout, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and an assist as the Oilers beat the road-weary New York Rangers 2-0 on Saturday night.
Khabibulin came into the game first in the NHL with a goals-against average of 0.95, and second with a .962 save percentage.
``I didn't expect anything from myself other than a good effort from myself and to fight for playing time,' said Khabibulin, who spent time in jail in Arizona this summer following a conviction for drunken driving. ``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 coach Tom Renney, a former head coach of the Rangers, has been impressed with Khabibulin, who has split starts with young teammate Devan Dubnyk.
``He was good tonight and has been everything we had hoped he would be,' Renney said. ``We're certainly satisfied with his play.'
Corey Potter also scored for the Oilers, who snapped a two-game skid and improved to 3-2-2 after late collapses cost them the two previous games.
The Rangers (2-2-2) lost for the first time on their four-game swing to Western Canada. New York is playing its first seven games of the season on the road, concluding Monday at Winnipeg, before returning to renovated Madison Square Garden for the home opener on Thursday.
New York coach John Tortorella, who replaced the fired Renney in February 2009, was quite displeased with his team's performance and declined to take postgame questions from reporters.
``We (stunk) from head to toe,' he said. ``I'm not going to dissect it with you guys.'
The Rangers got a scare when top goalie Henrik Lundqvist left the game in the third period because of a skate problem that caused pain in his left foot. He was replaced by Martin Biron, who made three saves.
Lundqvist said he doesn't expect the problem to force him to miss any games. He could get his first game off on Monday.
``It was bothering me the whole game,' Lundqvist said. ``We tried to fix it during the intermission. In the end it was just too painful. It's a little sore now, but (Sunday) I will be fine.'
The game was scoreless through the first period in which the Oilers dominated.
New York had its best scoring chance six minutes in when Ruslan Fedotenko picked off a flubbed pass deep in Edmonton territory, but he was thwarted on a quick toe save by Khabibulin.
The Oilers buzzed the New York net from there, outshooting the Rangers 11-4 in the 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 the play to start the second and came close to notching the game's first goal seven minutes in when Marian Gaborik barely steered a shot wide while being knocked down in front.
The Oilers took a 1-0 lead just past the mid-mark as Taylor Hall made a drop pass to Nugent-Hopkins, who fired a shot into the top corner for his fifth of his rookie season.
Edmonton killed a long 5-on-3 Rangers power play with three minutes left in the period.
The Oilers went up 2-0 four minutes into the third on a power-play goal. Nugent-Hopkins fed the puck back to Potter at the point, and the former Rangers farmhand ripped his second career NHL goal past Lundqvist.
Potter, a 27-year-old defenseman, has been a surprisingly strong player for the Oilers this season. He was brought in by Renney, who was familiar with him during his time in New York.
``I had never even heard of him before this year,' Khabibulin said. ``But he has stepped in and been very effective.'
NOTES: It was the Rangers' first appearance in Edmonton in nearly two years. The Rangers routed the Oilers 8-2 last November in New York. ... Oilers forward Sam Gagner made his season debut, returning from a shoulder injury. Gagner shifted from center to right wing on the third line, taking the place of Linus Omark. ... New York forward Wojtek Wolski has been cleared to play following his groin injury, but was a healthy scratch. ... Much has been made of the youth movement on the Oilers, but the Rangers have the younger team. The average age on the Oilers is 26.76 years, while the Rangers are 26.68. ... Including the playoffs, Lundqvist has started 36 consecutive games. He stopped 22 of 24 Oilers shots. ... The Rangers were 0 for 5 on the power play.
The Associated Press News Service
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