They say bad things happen in three’s, and when it comes to Blackhawks back-up goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, he’s certainly seemed to make a career of screwing over the Hawks.
It started with the lower-body injury in the 2009 Western Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings (pause for fist clench) that thrust Cristobal Huet into the spotlight and the Hawks out of the series; followed by the nightmarishly solid and frankly insulting numbers he put up as an Oiler in the 2010-2011 season whenever the Hawks played Edmonton. And now once again donning red, white, and black for Chicago, Khabibulin has been repeatedly putting the Hawks against the wall in the 2013-2014 campaing by letting in shots the youth hockey goalies that race during the first intermission at the United Center would have a decent chance at stopping.
Not to be disrespectful, after all Khabibulin has a prominent career and Stanley Cup ring behind him, but at 40, the seasoned puck-stopper was brought in to hold down the fort so Hawks starting goalie Corey Crawford could rest up and stay fresh, and he hasn’t been doing it, making it almost ironically symbolic in a way when Crawford came in the game the other night against the Ottawa Senators to clean up the mess made by #39.
Naturally there is already chatter about calling up the promising Antii Raanta (after all, the last time the Hawks had a back-up named Antii things worked out pretty well), and given the way the Khabibulin has played thus far, there is certainly nothing to lose with such a move. However, in the NHL, like all pro-sports, seemingly simplistic problems are for more complex they appear, and the Hawks back-up goalie issue is no exception.
First and foremost, regardless of how the back-up goalie issue is resolved, there is now more pressure on Crawford this season. With an unproven back-up, not only will Corey be expected to start more games, but the chance of him going in as relief are also higher. This all equals the potential of more fatigue for Crawford, both mentally and physically, so Corey needs to waste no time discovering new meanings of the word hardiness.
That being said, this may be harder than it was last season. It shouldn’t be over looked, but often is, that perhaps the biggest personnel loss the Blackhawks sustained after their 2013 Stanley Cup victory was that of goalie coach Stephane Waite. Waite was instrumental in the development of Antii Niemi in the 2010 season and helped glean Corey Crawford and Ray Emery into the dynamite one-two combo they were last season. With the back-up goalie situation in flux, and Crawford being thrust into a more prominent role than anticipated in the regular season, the absence of Waite’s guidance will be coming to bear for the Hawks, and only time and the resolution of the back-up goalie situation will determine its magnitude.
As far as the intermediary goes however, the rest of the Blackhawks need to continue the trend they started the past two games of putting up copious amounts of goals, since they no longer have the luxury of consistent goaltending they did last season to pull the offense out of a jam when it’s not firing on all cylinders.
For now offense will have to win games, so later, defense, and goaltending, can win championships.
FOR THE DAGGER!