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Thursday, October 22

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Blackhawks Wed Oct 14 2009

Only the goalies

Before Monday's miracle comeback, the storyline entering tonight's game was going to be the return of netminder Nicolai Khabibulin to the United Center.

Now, with the news that Antti Niemi is getting the start over Cristobal Huet, the Hawks goaltending situation is an equally compelling narrative.

While coach Joel Quenneville made sure to mention that Huet and his $5.6 million salary is still the starter and will be in net for tomorrow's trip to Nashville, the next two games will be highly-eyed by Hawks fans.

A matchup of Khabibulin, who wasn't resigned over the summer despite being the Hawks' starter during the postseason, and Huet, who was ostensibly set to replace Khabi a year ago before the position evolved into a timeshare, would have become the marquee matchup tonight in a game where Huet needs to perform extremely well. Switching to Niemi is a way to deflate the expectations and focus on getting a win, while giving Huet a breather and a chance to regroup against a less talented Nashville team. However, it also demonstrates both how bad Baby Huey's been to start the year and questions the amount of confidence in him by team management already (though, in the interest of fairness, the Hawks as a whole looked abysmal in the 12 minutes Huet played Monday night).

If Niemi puts on a strong performance and Huet struggles again, calls for a switch will only resonate louder than they already are from the disgruntled fanbase. It may seem premature to some, but remember, this is the team that fired coach Denis Savard after only 4 games last season.

Granted, Khabibulin hasn't been stellar in Edmonton either, as his 3.13 goals against average and 89% save percentage attest, but he's also helped the Oilers jump out to a 3-1-1 start. Chicagoans are looking at another deep postseason run, and are starting to understand that Huet in net may be the biggest obstacle to that "one goal."
Whether Niemi's an answer or another question remains to be seen, but if Huet doesn't find a way to turn it around as the season wears on (repeat, it's only October, it's only October), the Hawks will be stuck with a multi-million dollar bench warmer.

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