Even though the Hawks took three out of a possible four points on their Florida road trip, the way the games ended against two of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference was extremely disappointing.
On Tuesday night the Blackhawks had a 2-0 lead going into the third period only to see it slip away as the Florida Panthers scored twice to tie the game. The Hawks eventually won in a shootout, but letting the Panthers back into the game was inexcusable. Then last night, backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin looked very uncomfortable in net and let the Tampa Bay Lighting score six goals on him in a 6-5 overtime loss.
The facts so far have shown that the 40-year-old backup goaltender is just not cutting it for an elite team like the Blackhawks. Easy goals such as first one, which Khabibulin completely should have had and soft rebounds such as the overtime goal by Tampa Bay make it seem like the Khabibulin experiment might not be working out.
Offensively, the Blackhawks have started to pick up the pace by scoring eight goals in two games. Andrew Shaw picked up his first of the season last night and has started showing signs of the player we saw during last postseason. Shaw has started to play a bit more physical and started to win in the faceoff as he did last night going 4-7 from the faceoff circle.
The usual stars are also continuing to produce. Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are all scoring and boosting their stats. Including all being in the top 5 on the team with points and Kane leading the team in goals with five. If these “stars” of the team continue to produce, expect to see high scoring from the Blackhawks and more victories.
The big concern on the team right now is clear and that is backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The question is how long can you ride Corey Crawford in straight games? Another big question is if Khabibulin can’t get it together quick, will General Manager Stan Bowman pull the plug on the 40-year-old backup?
Even with the stars playing well and the Hawks only being a point out of first place in the Central Division, the Blackhawks need to start playing more consistent games to keep pace in the Western Conference and not letting teams come back into games that should easily be won. The backup goaltending issue will be addressed, but as a team the Hawks need to keep their foot on the pedal and push through some of these easier games. As mentioned in previous posts, every team will be coming after the defending champion Blackhawks. Now, it is up to the Hawks to match the intensity of every team they play.
The Blackhawks begin a home-and-home with the Minnesota Wild Saturday night with puck drop scheduled for 7:00pm (Central) from the United Center. The game can be seen on WGN and Fox Sports-North.