Chicago Blackhawks v Tampa Bay Lightning

With back-to-back games this weekend, I’m both curious and anxious to find out the Blackhawks’ goaltending plans.

Starting goalie Corey Crawford has been solid in net this year. Backup Nikolai Khabibulin, not so much.

Before being pulled halfway into Tuesday’s game against the Senators, Khabibulin let six goals past in a loss to Tampa Bay last week. His first start of the year, Oct. 11, was a 3-2 win with just 14 saves against the Islanders.

Tuesday, four goals slid by in 22 shots, contributing to a dismal 4.73 goals-against average and .818 save percentage this year.

“Whatever reason after a couple of goals, it just kind of snowballs,” Khabibulin explained. “I think I got to relax a bit and just go play.”

Captain Jonathan Toews, and other teammates including Patrick Sharp and starting goalie Corey Crawford came to Khabibulin’s defense. Their camaraderie and sportsmanship is admirable, and true.

“We just knew we didn’t play well enough in the first half. Corey coming in made us realize we have to be better in front of our goaltender, and putting it on Khabby is unfair,” Toews said. “We gave up too many high-quality scoring chances and you saw what happened. We got better and better as the game went along.”

While the teammates are right that they need to do a better job protecting their goalie (which they did with an incredible offense Tuesday), I can’t help but notice a lack of agility and speed in netminder.

“To have confidence you have to play well,” Khabibulin said.

He said he needs to treat practices like games to build his confidence.

“You have to look at what happened in the games and work on flaws, try to clean things up, try to freshen your mind,” Khabibulin added. “It doesn’t matter what happens in front of me, I still try to find things I can do better so I don’t get scored on that (much).

“It’s nice of the guys to stick up for me but it’s pretty simple I have to do better.”

He does.

It’s only been three games and perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh. Yes, at one point, Khabby was great. But now, he can’t bounce back once he lets a goal or two past him. He doesn’t seem to have the mental or physical speed to handle choppy plays or even basic rebounds. He commits early and can’t bounce back from it to make the saves.

Whether it spurs from “being rusty” with minimal playing time, or lacking confidence, it’s something a veteran player needs to either overcome these barriers or admit he’s just not up to it anymore.

Khabibulin signed a one-year, $2 million contract for the Blackhawks this year. He played 12 games for the Oilers last year with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He last played for the Blackhawks from 2005-2009.

I don’t think I was alone feeling shocked at the signing. After the 2010 dismantling and reassembling of the team, I learned to trust the Blackhawks organization, but I haven’t been able to see the logic in this one. I want him to do well, but my stomach is in knots when they announce he’ll be in goal. (If he’s admitted he has a confidence problem, imagine how he feels and how that impacts his play.)

With games Saturday (Winnipeg) and Sunday (Calgary) this weekend–and two other sets of consecutive games in November– the Blackhawks haven’t announced when he’ll get another chance in net.

“Each set we’ll evaluate it,” Quenneville said. “We just want to get him confident and playing the way he can. The situation will dictate when we’ll get him back in. We’ll get to see in practice and he’ll show us when he’s ready. It’s a process to get him where he needs to be.”

They don’t seem to show interest in recalling Antti Rannta from the Rockford Icehogs despite his 5-1-0 record and .926 save percentage. The Finland native signed as a free agent this summer and has a 2.40 goals-against average in the AHL.

So… prove me wrong, Khabby. Rebuild that wall of yours from the inside out.

New York Islanders v Chicago Blackhawks

Carly grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.


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