Scoring is back in the NHL, and tonight’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators was the latest example of that. A total of 11 goals were scored, including a hat trick by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who could have easily had four goals, as it appeared the first goal of the game redirected off his torso; it marked the fourth hat trick of Toews career.
The offense was much needed. In net was backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who struggled to the point of being pulled. Khabibulin is 40 years old, and was brought back on a one year, $2 million contract, a financial obligation to which he has not been able to perform.
On the ice, Khabibulin has looked slow and has been unable to show any rebound control. Statistically, Khabibulin has been atrocious, allowing 3.97 goals per game and only bolstering a .818 save percentage. Tonight, he allowed four goals on only 22 shots, eventually being pulled for starter Corey Crawford.
Looking forward, it is still unclear if AHL starter Antti Raanta is NHL ready, but it appears as if the change will be necessary. Khabibulin simply can no longer perform at the highest level. Raanta is still adjusting since coming over from Europe, but has a 5-1 record and is allowing 2.40 goals per game. That certainly looks good to Khabibulin’s average of 10 goals in his last 93 minutes of action.
Raanta’s record has shown that he can play to the situation, as Rockford is one of the AHL’s best teams. The same is becoming true of the Blackhawks, as the offense has now scored five goals in three of their last four games.
Toews was one of the major reasons for that, as he was quick to defend his goaltender, as a captain should. Toews told the Chicago Sun-Times, “We, as a team we had a slow start, too. It’s unfair to put the burden on our goaltender.”
All in all, it would be unwise to send someone with a $2 million contract down to the AHL, but Khabibulin is running out of chances. Toews will not be able to bail out his backup goaltender every start, and neither will the top line of Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, no matter how good they looked tonight.
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