Oct 28, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) pokes the puck during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Out of all of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 18 games played, so far this season, goaltender Corey Crawford has played in 16 of them. Backup goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin has played in just 3 games. This is a trend that MUST change, because it is not sustainable throughout an 82 game regular season. If this trend does continue, then the Blackhawks’ season will no doubt end in a disappointment.
Yes, of course Khabibulin has struggled mightily, this season, and that would be putting it lightly. In his 3 games that he has played in, this season, Khabibulin has a 1-0-1 record, an astonishingly high Goals Against Average of 4.74, and a horrifyingly low Save Percentage of .818%.
Of all of those numbers, which one is the most significant?
It is 3, the number of games that he has appeared in.
Yes, his numbers are very telling of his awful performance, thus far, this season, but his numbers represent the most minuscule of sample sizes. Numbers that bad, are also likely not sustainable, throughout a season, for a backup goaltender.
Keep in mind that Khabibulin was not brought it to put up lights-out numbers, like Ray Emery did for the Hawks, last season. Khabibulin was brought in to give Crawford days off, throughout the grind of the 82 game season. He hasn’t done that, but the blame for that currently rests on Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s shoulders.
I understand Quenneville wanting to give his team the best chance to win, night in and night out, but it’s time to start thinking about the long-term consequences of leaning to hard on Crawford. Not only has Crawford played in 16 of the Hawks’ 18 games, this season, he has also played in 3 sets of back-to-back games.
Think about that, Khabibulin has played in 3 games, all season, while Crawford has already played in 3 sets of back-to-backs. It’s just NOT sustainable, throughout a whole season, so why not fix this now, rather than later?
Playing Crawford at this pace will burn him out before the season is over, and if(they most certainly will) the Hawks make the playoffs, Crawford will have nothing left in the tank, to get them through an excruciating Stanley Cup playoff run. Worse yet, this could result in Crawford getting hurt, which would leave the Hawks scrambling for solutions to what would be nothing short of a crisis. Anything short of a deep playoff run, will be seen as a disappointment, in Chicago.
Do I think Coach Q will continue to play Crawford this pace? No, but I’m curious to know what’s taking him so long to give him a more reasonable workload. There’s no way Q has lost all confidence in Khabibulin after such a small sample size. Quenneville has earned the benefit of the doubt, from me, because he is a good coach, and he understands the game of hockey more than most.
Is sitting Khabibulin for an extended period of time, to stew in his poor play in net, all part of Coach Q’s plan? Maybe. That seems a little harsh, but maybe this is Q’s way of getting Khabi’ broken in to the role of a backup goaltender, a role that he has never played before. It’s curious and interesting to say the least.
There’s no logic in burning out Crawford, this early into a season, that already has the makings of another playoff bound season, for the Blackhawks. Why isn’t Khabibulin getting a chance to work out his struggles? Why isn’t Khabibulin being allowed to play his role on this team?
He will likely get his chance, but it should have come by now. This whole situation seems to be an overreaction to early season struggles from Khabibulin, but Coach Q didn’t climb all the way to 6th on the all-time wins list, for NHL head coaches, by not knowing what he’s doing.
Trust in Coach Q! But it’s okay to raise an eyebrow from time to time.