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|24 ноября 2007
Khabibulin finds his 'comfort zone' // Sun Times
Savvy gushes over goalie's work in last two games
BY LEN ZIEHM
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Sure, those short-handed goals are great. But if Blackhawks coach Denis Savard had to pick one reason why the Hawks are enjoying a most promising road trip, it wouldn't necessarily be penalty-killing.
''The last two games, our goaltending has been phenomenal,'' Savard said.
Nikolai Khabibulin withstood 42 shots by the Detroit Red Wings in a 5-3 victory last Saturday night and 30 more -- including a flurry in the final seconds -- in a 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames. He will try for three in a row tonight when the Hawks visit the struggling Edmonton Oilers, and a win in this one would assure the Hawks their first winning record since 1997 on this traditionally challenging late-November road trip. They're 2-1-1 going into tonight's game, and a visit to Vancouver on Sunday concludes the journey. Backup Patrick Lalime is scheduled to be in the nets against the Canucks.
Khabibulin signed the biggest contract in franchise history, $27 million for four seasons, and was generally average in his first two seasons with the Hawks. He was inconsistent at the start of this one, but that has not been the case lately.
''He looked so comfortable, so confident,'' goaltender coach Stephane Waite said of Khabibulin's last two outings. ''He's found his comfort zone.''
Khabibulin hasn't been able to explain why, because he has paid the price for both of those hard-earned victories. He experienced dehydration in both and had long intravenous treatments immediately after leaving the ice.
''He lost 12 pounds against Detroit and probably about nine [at Calgary],'' Savard said. ''Khabby takes a lot of fluids. He has this purple drink he takes between shifts. He's always been like that. It's not unusual.''
Something is different about Khabibulin's play, though.
Savard lauded Waite's work after the Calgary win.
''Steph has done a good jog,'' he said. ''They've adjusted together, and it's working well for Khabby. For two games in a row he's stood very tall for us.''
Waite is coy when discussing it.
''We made changes on positioning, on the way he reads plays and in his game preparation,'' he said.
Waite won't say just what those changes are, but they've brought out the best in Khabibulin, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 while with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
''Those three things are just little details. They're not huge,'' Waite said. ''But I know that he is where I wanted him to be over the last two years. You can't believe how comfortable he is.''
The Hawks are a pretty comfortable bunch, too -- even with the lineup in a constant state of flux. Savard adjusted the lines again Friday, when the Hawks had a brief workout in Calgary before taking a bus ride to Edmonton.
The Jonathan Toews-Tuomo Ruutu-Patrick Kane line remained intact, even though it has produced just one goal and two assists in the last four games.
''It's an adjustment period for them,'' Savard said. ''I want them to be creative, but they've also got to be disciplined. They'll break through it.''
On Friday, the other lines had Robert Lang centering for Yanic Perreault and Sergei Samsonov, who has shaken off the flu, and Patrick Sharp centering for Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien is headed for a second straight game as a winger, but this time it'll be on the third line instead of the fourth.
Adam Burish and Jake Dowell will be on the fourth line with Martin Lapointe joining them if his sore back allows it. Otherwise, David Koci will be in the lineup.