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|12 января 2008
No denying it: Khabibulin a concern // Chicago Daily Herald
By Tim Sassone
For weeks the Blackhawks have tiptoed around the subject, but the play of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has become a front-and-center issue.
Khabibulin wasn't sharp again Friday night in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at the sold-out United Center that extended the Hawks' losing streak to eight games.
Khabibulin allowed goals on 3 of the first 8 shots he faced in the game's first 24 minutes -- and 4 on 10 shots through two periods.
The Hawks outshot the Wild 43-16 while Khabibulin was outplayed badly by Wild goalie Josh Harding.
"I hate to blame Habby for the loss," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "I'd rather look at the other side, how well their goalie played, but those goals, he knows, they're not good goals.
"But I said to our guys after the second (period) that no matter who makes a mistake, we have to stick together. You try to help a teammate out, bail him out. That's how it should be."
The first goal Khabibulin allowed at 6:36 of the first period, a wraparound by Matt Foy through the pads, appeared to deflate the Hawks after they had taken a 1-0 lead on a Brent Sopel goal.
Allowing soft goals has been a problem for Khabibulin during the losing streak and has led to whispers around the NHL that the Hawks might be trying to move their No. 1 goalie, who is in the third year of a franchise record four-year, $27 million contract.
Savard has been reluctant to criticize Khabibulin but admitted the goaltending needs to improve.
"For us to get into the playoffs, we need goaltending -- no question," Savard said. "When you look at teams that are having winning streaks and getting on a roll, their goaltender has been not only good, but spectacular."
The Wild got second-period goals from Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mark Parrish to bust the game open. Those 3 goals weren't necessarily Khabibulin's fault, with 2 resulting from defensive breakdowns and the third on a power play, but sometimes big saves need to be made.
"He wants to win," said Savard, who had planned even before Friday's loss to start backup Patrick Lalime on Sunday in Nashville. "He's a winner and he's won a (Stanley) Cup for a reason. It's just that right now mentally he's probably fighting it too because he wants it bad. But again we made mistakes on a couple goals we shouldn't make."
On Minnesota's first goal, Khabibulin wouldn't even have seen a shot had defenseman Cam Barker not botched the play behind the net.
And on Gaborik's goal that put the Wild ahead to stay at 10:37 of the second period, Dustin Byfuglien turned the puck over in the neutral zone, then Gaborik raced around Barker.
"Barks didn't have his best night, but he's young and we'll keep working with him to make him better," Savard said.
The Hawks outshot Minnesota 20-5 in the third with the line of Robert Lang, Martin Havlat and Patrick Kane dominating at times. Havlat scored the Hawks' other goal.
"We're still right there for a playoff spot," Kane said. "We've just got to win some games and get this streak out of the way as quick as possible."