Nikolai Khabibulin stayed out on the ice for some extra work, as he usually does, on Thursday. Now, it’s about trying to find answers as to why he’s struggled in his last two games.
“You have to play well, and the last couple games I was in I didn’t,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “I have to build the confidence off practices, treat them like games, I guess, and try to get a better result.”
Khabibulin allowed six to Tampa Bay, then was pulled after allowing four on 22 shots midway through the Blackhawks’ 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Ottawa. It’s been a tough start for the 40-year-old goalie, who obviously didn’t see this as part of his return to Chicago.
“You have to look at what happened in the games and work on flaws that are in the game,” he said. “There are a couple minor things I can get better at, but in practices in games I felt pretty decent. For whatever reason, after a few goals it just kind of snowballs. I think I have to relax a bit and just go play.”
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Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks want Khabibulin to be a big part of this team, so the focus, right now, is on his improvement. Asked about the Blackhawks potentially bringing up Antti Raanta, who’s currently 5-1-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average with the Rockford IceHogs, Quenneville said, “I would say, right now, we want to get Khabibulin going and keep him playing.”
As for when Khabibulin plays again — the Blackhawks have four back-to-backs in November, including one this weekend with Winnipeg and Calgary — Quenneville said they’re in wait-and-see mode.
“We have some dates in between, and each set will be evaluated. We want to get him confident and playing the way we know he can,” Quenneville said. “You’re always going to have different guys playing well over the stretch of the season. Obviously goaltending is magnified, but everyone has stretches where not firing on all cylinders. Hopefully he’ll recapture it.”
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Teammates, including Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews, defended Khabibulin after Tuesday night’s game. Khabibulin appreciated it, but knows that it still comes down to him.
“As a goalie — and I don’t think I’m the only one — we always try to have a perfect game,” he said. “If I get scored on four, five, six times a game, I’m not happy. It doesn’t matter what happens in front of me. I still try to find things I can do better so I don’t get scored on that many times. It’s nice of the guys to stick up for me and everything, but it’s pretty simple: I have to do better.”
This isn’t the start Khabibulin envisioned. There’s still time for him to rebound, and Khabibulin will be working toward that.
“Two games don’t make a season, but I wanted to play better in the first games I played,” he said. “But what happened, happened. I have to put it aside. I’ll just try to do better next game.”