I'm thinking that it is maybe time for the Blackhawks to consider trading Nikolai Khabibulin if they can somehow find a taker for him. Last night was a perfect example of why I just can't stand him on this team anymore. The Hawks out-shot the Wild 43-16 and still lost 5-2. Khabibulin allowed 4 goals on 15 shots. That means he stopped about 26% of the shots he faced if my math is correct. That is inexcusable.
My biggest problem with him is how he let the wind out of this team's sails in the 1st period. After Brent Sopel, back in the lineup from his injury, put the Hawks up 1-0 just four minutes into the game, Khabibulin gave it right back three minutes later by allowing a weak wrap-around goal from Matt Foy to make it 1-1. This is another soft goal, something he's been giving up once or twice every game. Is this what the Hawks are paying $6.75 million a year for?
It's not just that Khabibulin is giving up the soft goals. It's that he is not making the big stops that the Hawks need from him to keep them in games. Was he doing it earlier in the year? Yes. Has been been doing it during this 8 game winless streak? No, and that's when this team has needed him the most to come through, with all of the injuries they have sustained. They have needed him to be the best player on the ice, and usually he has been one of the worst.
The Wild scored three unanswered goals after the Hawks lost their early lead. Marian Gaborik scored halfway through the 2nd period on a 2-on-1, one that I suppose could be blamed on Dustin Byfuglien, who simply lost the puck at center ice after running into traffic there. Byfuglien has not looked like an NHL defenseman lately, to put it simply. His miscues have been taken advantage of by a lot of teams lately, and he needs to improve quickly. His play of late is not going to cut it at this level.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored on a shot from around the face-off circle in the Hawks' zone just about 3 minutes later, making it 3-1. The puck apparently deflected off Brent Sopel before making it's way into the net, and I suppose this is one you could say wasn't really Khabibulin's fault, but again, isn't the highest paid goaltender in the league supposed to stop shots like this?
With a minute to go in the 2nd, Mark Parrish scored on a one-timer from the high slot in the Hawks' zone, making it 4-1. Again, this was a pretty nice blast from Parrish, but the Hawks needed their goalie to keep them in the game at that point, and Nik couldn't come up with the big stop, and that pretty much ended the Hawks' chances of coming back in this one.
The Hawks peppered Wild goalie Josh Harding in the 3rd period, out-shooting Minnesota by a count of 20-5, and some of them were very good scoring chances, but Harding made a ton of big stops to keep them from making any kind of big comeback in this one. This is a case where the 23 year old Harding, playing in his 29th career NHL game, outplayed Khabibulin by a very wide margin. It came down to goaltending in this one more than anything, and the Blackhawks' net-minder let them down.
The only goal the Hawks picked up in the 3rd came from the stick of Martin Havlat, who scored just over a minute into the period when Chicago was on a 5-on-3 advantage. The goal came when he took a nice pass from Robert Lang and buried it past Harding, making it 4-2 at the time.
Marian Gaborik added an empty netter with about a minute and a half to go in the 3rd, sealing the victory for Minnesota and handing the Hawks their eighth straight game without a win.
I don't really know what to say about this team any more. I'm very disappointed that they have basically just collapsed since Jonathan Toews went down with the knee injury. I understand that these injuries have been devastating, probably more than any other NHL team has had to endure in a very long time. But, there are still capable players in this lineup right now and they should be able to win.
Why am I blaming Khabibulin so much? Because I can't help but notice how bad he has been since the Hawks lost key players and needed him to step up. You can say the defense in front of him isn't good and the offense isn't scoring much, but the bottom line is that when your team is in dire straits, you turn to your best player (or highest paid, in this case) to come up big for you, especially when it is your goaltender, and Nikolai has been just brutal lately. He's been giving up at least a soft goal per game. This game feels like the straw that broke the camel's back. How do you give up 4 goals on 15 shots? Denis Savard talked about it afterwards:
"I hate to blame Khabibulin for the loss," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "But those goals, he knows, are not good goals. As I said to the guys after the second, no matter who makes the mistakes or whatever happens we need to stick together. Try to help your teammate out, try and bail him out."
I think Savard knows that Khabby has been letting his team down lately, and needs to be a lot better. I would not mind seeing Lalime get more playing time at this point, and as I said, I wouldn't be against a trade of Khabibulin if the deal is right.
Speaking of trades, the Tribune's Chris Kuc reported yesterday that a deal of some sort is definitely imminent for the Blackhawks:
Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon said Friday he's still working on a trade but the timetable has been pushed back a few days. He still believes it will get done, just not until after the weekend.
Tallon said Thursday he's looking for a veteran defenseman to help solidify the defense, help out younger players and still fit into the team's plans for the future.
I would like to see something bold done at this point. Keep in mind, it would not be smart for Tallon to do something desperate and give up good young talent for a band-aid player. He has to be realistic and realize that something like a playoff berth may be a pipe dream at this point. But, if he can package together something like Khabibulin, Byfuglien and say, Cam Barker, he might be able to pick up someone valuable. I'm doubting that we will see a blockbuster deal, however. There are rumors that the Hawks are interested in someone like Buffalo's Brian Campbell or Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin, both of them being blue-liners. We'll see how it pans out.
SCH Hawks Player Of The Game: No one really played a strong game for the Hawks, but I suppose Martin Havlat, who had a goal on the PP and I thought looked pretty good for the most part.