General Stan Bowman showed everyone in hockey earlier this week when he has a need, he addresses it. The Blackhawks had a need for a third line player with penalty killing and power play experience. Bowman traded Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes for Kris Versteeg and Philippe Lefebvre.
Bowman has showed he will not hesitate to address a hole in the team. That is why tonight is a make or break start for Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin has struggled mightily this season. The numbers bear it out. In his three starts he has one win and one overtime loss. He also had to be pulled out of a start. Khabibulan has allowed twelve goals on 66 shots for a save percentage for 81.8%. This is the worst save percentage of his career.
Now comparing Khabibulan to Ray Emery last season is unfair. Emery was remarkable last season; he was 17-1 with 1.94 goals against with 92.2% save percentage. He was better than the majority of starting goalies last season.
The Blackhawks fans and organization are not asking Khabibulin to duplicate Emery’s performance from a year ago, but we are asking Khabibulin to be SERVICEABLE!
Now if you compare to Khabibulin to Emery this season, he stacks up better. Emery is 2-3 with an 89.8% save percentage and 2.82 goals against. The catch of the comparison this season is that Emery is on a team with a record of 7-10. Khabibulin is on a division leading team with a record of 13-2-4.
Tonight is the most important start of the season for Khabibulin. It would be fair to say that the rest of his time with the Blackhawks depends on this start would not be a stretch. The expectation for tonight is not post a shutout or even allow two goals or less. The exception for tonight is for the Blackhawks to win and Khabibulin to give up three goals or less. His save percentage needs to be 89-90% tonight. If he does that, he can continue to fulfill the role of the backup goalie for the Blackhawks.
If he can’t the Blackhawks will be looking for a goalie who can give Corey Crawford a night off every once and a while.
I pose the question to you: