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|18 сентября 2007
Khabibulin now must be the man for Hawks // Chicago Daily Herald
By Tim Sassone
Maybe Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be the two best rookies in the NHL.
Maybe the Blackhawks will score more goals on the power play.
Maybe the pieces will fall into place on defense.
But for the Hawks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, it's likely going to come down to whether they get consistently good goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin.
Now halfway through his four-year, $27 million contract, the richest in team history, Khabibulin hasn't lived up to expectations -- though, in his defense, there hasn't been a good team in front of him for those two seasons.
"We haven't seen the best of him yet, I really believe it," said Hawks general manager Dale Tallon. "We saw brilliance early (last season), and brilliance late."
Khabibulin went 25-26-5 last season with a 2.86 goals-against average and respectable .902 save percentage. It was a considerably better year than his first with the Hawks, when he went 17-26-6 with a lowly .886 save percentage coming out of the lockout.
"Last year was better than the first year, but I'm definitely not satisfied with things the way they went," said Khabibulin, who turns 35 in January. "There's nothing I can do about that but go out this year and try to better last year."
Khabibulin's numbers last season were quite good considering the Hawks scored an average of only 2.38 goals per game. Terry Sawchuk in his prime would have trouble winning regularly with that kind of support.
While Khabibulin has refused to criticize the offense, Tallon and coach Denis Savard believe the strain of having to be nearly perfect every night took a toll on him.
"It's tough for a goaltender when you don't score many goals," Savard said. "It's his job to stop pucks, but when you know you can't give up more than 2 goals a game it's difficult on your mind. We're going to help him."
Added Tallon: "He knew last year if he gave up a second goal we were in a scrap, and that's a lot of pressure on a goalie. I think now he knows we can score some goals, that we have an offense. It's quite stressful if you know once you give up 2 goals all you might get is a point. It's human nature."
Even if the offense is improved. Khabibulin knows he must play better. The Vancouver Canucks scored only 21 more goals than the Hawks last season but were 34 points better in the standings thanks largely to Roberto Luongo playing great on most nights.
"Nik's got to be better, but he knows our team and we have a better team," Tallon said.
"We still have to keep the puck out of our net," Khabibulin said. "If we score a lot of goals but let in more, we're not going to make any progress.
"We all have to do our jobs, whether its defense or offense. I don't want to put too much pressure on offense."
Savard promises to do a better job monitoring Khabibulin's fatigue level. Khabibulin appeared in 60 games last season, starting 51 of 61 games after Savard replaced Trent Yawney as coach in late November.
"He played well last year when I took over, but I just kind of burned
him out too much," Savard said. "I was trying to get back in the race."