Nikolai Khabibulin doesn’t have any expectations.
Let us clarify. The veteran Chicago Blackhawks goaltender expects to be ready and expects to play his best when he’s in there. Where the “no expectations” comes in is regarding his potential workload.
“Whatever it is, it is,” said Khabibulin, who got his second full preseason game on Monday in Pittsburgh. “Obviously when I’m going to be put out there to play, I’ll do the best I can and be ready to play any day.”
For the 40-year-old Khabibulin, his second opportunity with the Blackhawks is going to be a different one. The starter during his first stint here — and for most of his career for that matter — Khabibulin is now in a backup role. He had that role last year in Edmonton; as his game struggled, Devan Dubnyk replaced him as the Oilers’ starter.
But now, it’s a fresh start with a familiar squad. Khabibulin has looked solid in two preseason games and said he feels just about ready to go.
“Physically I feel pretty good,” he said. “Always early in the season, there are a few things you want to work on. But little by little, it’s getting better.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has been happy with what Khabibulin has done thus far, though he’s not willing to put a number on how he’ll divide the workload between Corey Crawford and Khabibulin.
“We’ll see how it all works out,” Quenneville said. “Every start’s important. Our goaltending situation, giving ourselves a chance to win every night is what we’re looking for. Ray (Emery) came in (last season) and gave us a lot of big stops and big games.”
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Quenneville knows Khabibulin, when called upon, will be ready.
“He’s a hard-working type of guy and keeps himself well prepared,” he said. “Guys want to play, and when you’re not playing you have to keep yourself sharp. It will be a nice complement with him and Crow.”
Crawford and Khabibulin crossed paths during Khabibulin’s first time with the Blackhawks (2005-2009). At that time, Crawford was in the minor-league system and a sometime call-up. Crawford and Emery, as competitive as they were, nevertheless had a great relationship. It sounds like Crawford and Khabibulin are forming the same rapport.
“He’s a great guy; easy to get a long with. And he’s a great goalie too,” Crawford said. “We’re really confident in the tandem we have right now.”
Khabibulin has been the Cup-winning guy. He’s been the starting guy. Now he’ll get used to being the not-everyday guy.
“It’s an adjustment, for sure, but I’m trying to prepare for every game like I would play, whether I will or not,” he said. “Just in case something happens. When I do that, it’s a little bit easier.”