Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oh yeah, I remember...

As we near the March 4th NHL trade deadline, I think back to last year. Last year, the Blackhawks were likely sellers. The two names that were bandied about most Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin. As it turned out, neither were traded. Instead, the Blackhawks dumped declining Tuomo Ruutu to Carolina for a competent grinder, Andrew Ladd. Even at the beginning of this season, the Blackhawks were shopping Khabi around. GM Dale Tallon wasn't shy about going out and getting Cristobal Huet and making sure Khabibulin cleared waivers.
One year removed, I looked back and thought, "We would have been crazy to trade those guys." Nikolai Khabibulin started out this season an impressive 17-5-5 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. And Martin Havlat is nothing short of stellar either. As of tonight, Havlat leads the team in points with 57 and is currently on a 9-game point streak. We would have been crazy to trade those guys, right?
Then I remembered why we wanted to get rid of Khabibulin...

He's always been inconsistent, hounded by injuries. This year, he's been fairly consistent, but yet again, we find him on the Injured Reserve list. Surprise, surprise, it's another groin injury. The Blackhawks slogged through a long Khabibulin injury last year with Patrick Lalime in net (and even Corey Crawford from Rockford for a night). Filling in for a week is one thing, but filling in for three is a world different.

I thought we'd be okay this year. Huet was battling for the starting position. And let me tell you, it was a good fight. The two worked in a beautiful tandem. Khabi was generally the "big game" goalie, but otherwise, the two just alternated; and just dominated! Similar--but on a smaller scale--to the two-headed monster in Boston (Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez). You take one of those netminders out of the loop, though, and things eventually change.

I say "eventually" because Huet held his own and made me truly grateful that we had a second starter rather than a back-up. However, after two weeks, the exhaustion begins to set in....and then it begins to show.

Just one week ago, the Blackhawks skated into the third period with a 3-1 lead over the Predators. Statistically, the team in the lead going into the third period is overwhelmingly favored (something like 85%). The Blackhawks then proceeded to give up 2 goals at the beginning of the period to allow the game to be tied. They continued by allowing two more back-to-back goals later on in the period and lost 5-3.

Not surprisingly, Joel Quennville gave Huet a break against Kings and let newly aquired Antti Niemi have the start. The Finnish Niemi made 22 saves and led the Blackhawks to a 4-2 win.

Tonight, facing a more daunting opponent in the Anaheim Ducks, Q gave Huet his mask back. The game started out well enough. The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead in the first period. And this, just to give it all back in about 4 minutes in the second period. Both were Huet miscues. The first came when Huet got the puck stolen from him while behind the net. The second came when he accidentally got his stick caught on his own player and lost it.

I love to hate Huet and beg to have Khabi back, but tonight I realized that we wouldn't be in this position if Khabi weren't made of glass. Do I want Khabi gone? Not at all. Until this injury, he's been great this year. I just remember why we felt the way we did last year.

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