Chicago Blackhawks Face Tricky Situation With Nikolai Khabibulin

Nikolai Khabibulin

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t had the greatest of starts, but they haven’t had a poor start in any sense of the word either. It almost varies from period to period, as they’ve had some trouble closing out hockey games. On any given night, though, you can see why they’re the defending champs.

Regardless of where the Blackhawks have succeeded, and where they may have room for improvement, there’s one glaring area of concern early on in the season, and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Their issue resides in goal, but it’s not the problem they’ve typically had over the last few years.

Corey Crawford has been brilliant. There’s no concern there. The larger issue is his no. 2, who has been playing like, well, no. 2. Nikolai Khabibulin was brought back to replace Ray Emery as the backup netminder in the Windy City, and has been anything but reliable.

Granted, it’s a minuscule sample size for the artist formerly known as the Bulin Wall. In three starts on the year, Khabibulin has posted a 4.73 goals against average and an .818 save percentage. He’s allowed 12 goals on only 66 shots across those three starts, including his most recent, when he was pulled prior to the third period.

Of course, the Hawks did him no favors on Tuesday night, when he surrendered four goals, but in the event that something happens to Crawford, whether injury or struggles, Khabibulin clearly isn’t capable of making consecutive starts. He can barely handle himself through one outing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles this. Do they roll with Khabibulin until he snaps out of it, if he ever does? Or do they bring Antti Raanta to Chicago sooner than anyone expected? One would think it’ll be a couple of more starts out of the old man before we find out.

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