Then, As It Was, Then Again It Will Be: Blackhawks Mid-Season Report-The Goalies
With a nice break here, and me not having to puke up a lung, Matt and I thought it was time to look back over the season so far, and grade out each player. With Matt being a good irish lad, and my drinking problem, we'll use a scale of 1-5 pints of Guinness, with 5 being the best. Today, I'll cover the two-headed, expensive but effective monster in net. Tomorrow, Matt will get to the D-men, and then early next week we'll study the forwards for The West Side Hockey Club. So to it...
First up, Nikolai Khabibulin:
|2008 - Nikolai Khabibulin||24||1393||13||4||5||1||55||2.37||713||658||.923||1|
Been an interesting season to say the least for Nik. First, he watched his replacement get signed this summer, and we have to assume with very little to no warning. Then he had to sit idly by and watch and listen to all the attempts GM Dale Tallon was furiously making to remove him from Chicago. Then he was sent from training camp while a transfer to Russia was discussed. Then, he was right back where he started, on the Blackhawks. After all that, no one would have been shocked if Khabby threw a hissy-fit or just threw in in the tank on the ice.
But, the exact opposite has happened. We haven't heard a peep from him, who's been the definition of the good soldier. Oh, and his play has been pretty damn impressive. For at least the first month of the season, Khabby was clearly the better goalie and even earned a string of starts before getting hurt against San Jose. He hasn't been much worse since. Clearly, Khabby needs the challenge of a free agent year, in addition to competition for the job to bring the best out of him (witness his Cup run in his last contract year). The Hawks are reaping the benefits this season, though it has provided the headache that Nik may have proven to important to move. Unless, Huet really outplays him in february, the Hawks will have to keep Nik for whatever noise they plan on making in the spring. Hard to figure any teams that could fit him anyway.
So, Khabby's Grade: 4 Guinness
On to The Amazing Cristobal Huet:
|2008 - Cristobal Huet||23||1332||12||8||3||2||51||2.30||629||578||.919||2|
I've always thought Cris has gotten some rough treatment from Hawks fans this season. He's been put in a rough position. He was clearly told he was brought here to be the starter and with a new, heavy deal, that's pressure enough. But then Khabby ended up sticking around and playing very well, which only amped up the heat on Cris. What didnt' help is Huet got off to a slow start. His rebound control was downright awful, he looked like a pitch-back in the CEO's office. He also looked a little slow and tentative. Part of that is his positional style, he's less flashy than Nik, and sometimes looks lethargic.
But then Nik got hurt, Cris got a string of starts, and since you could argue he's been the better goalie. The past two starts against St. Louis he's been the only reason the Hawks had a chance in either of them. His numbers are almost exactly the same as Khabby's now. Obviously, the Winter Classic was not inspiring, but Scum were so far ahead of the Hawks in the last two periods it's hard to imagine Khabby would have done much better. But since Thanksgiving, we can't argue with Huet's play.
We'll give him 3.5 Kronenbourg's:
Going forward: Tallon has sort of dumb-idiot lucked his way into the perfect scenario. Neither of these goalies have proven that they can handle a full, #1 starter load. And now they haven't had to. Both are excelling at a perfect number of games for them, and should do so for the next month or so. But at some point, you have to believe Q is going to have to pick one to carry through the home stretch and into the playoffs. It's hard to think of a team that rolled a duo out there in April. Will he get pressure from upstairs to go with Huet? If he goes with Khabby, will Cris's confidence and comfort be ruined for next year? Will either of these goalies excel or falter to make the choice easy? We shall see, but one of the Hawks' strength this year could still yet turn into an advil-getter.