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Blackhawks Thu Oct 31 2013
The Blackhawks closed out the month of October with an 8-2-3 record after Jonathan Toews notched his third career hat trick, which helped his team overcome the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night by the final of 6-5. Nikolai "do svidaniya" Khabibulin was yanked halfway through the second period after giving up his fourth goal of the evening, tenth goal in his last two games, which prompted coach Quenneville to call on Corey Crawford to save the day.
The game was a microcosm of the first month of the season, which saw lead changes, lack of faith in back-up goaltending and a flurry of offense from the good guys when needed. A few questions that came about regarding the Blackhawks this early on included what to do with 36-year-old Michal Handzuš at second-line center. With Brandon Pirri playing well on the fourth line, it seemed only a matter of time before Quenneville made the switch -- and that has happened with early returns.
Keeping leads late in games was another frightening thing to watch, which made for longer games that stretched into overtime and shootouts. A lot of that was attributed to bad play in the Blackhawks' own zone, that and a lack of scoring in the third period (at one point, the Blackhawks were being outscored 10-3 in the third period). There still seems to be some late goals being scored by the opposition, but at least the offense has caught up and has kept the team in it late.
The next obvious question is what to do with Khabibulin? Some have called for his one-way ticket to Siberia or even a direct trade for Edward Snowden, while others have peered into the cauldron to summon the sprit of Antti Raanta to take his place. Raanta, who the Blackhawks signed to a one-year deal this past June, has been playing well in Rockford, sporting a 5-1 record and a 2.40 goals against average.
Yes, Khabi's looked bad -- at times, flat out awful -- but flipping the switch this soon might not be the answer. He should be given at least one more start, maybe even a second, especially this early in the year. This gives Raanta a little more time to settle on U.S. ice and Khabibulin a chance to shake whatever cobwebs are floating around in his big head.
Another move, and this would be so Quenneville-ian, would be to have Khabibulin sit out with "an upper-body injury" and call up Raanta for one game. That way, Khabibulin doesn't suffer an ego blast of being a 40-year-old who is sent to Rockford, and Raanta gets to scout out his future bench seat.
Either way, it certainly is something that needs to be addressed, but maybe not just yet. The Blackhawks are only a point behind the division-leading Colorado Avalanche and two points out from owning the best record in the league.
So needless to say, after all the questions that arose early on in the first month of play, the Blackhawks are playing well, all while sporting the target of defending champion on their backs. As Toews showed with his hat trick, or with Brandon Saad's pass to Patrick Kane in Minnesota, which easily will be one of the best plays you'll see all season, this team still has the ability to score when it wants. That kind of confidence is scary for other teams and can provide wins whether it's Khabibulin or Raanta backing up Crawford.