Q picks Huet to start Tuesday in Edmonton; Niemi supporters ask Y

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The Q memorandum sent us all a concise message we can decipher in a million different ways.

What did coach Joel Quenneville actually say without saying it by choosing Monday to start Cristobal Huet over Andy Niemi in goal Tuesday night in Edmonton?

At least I'm assuming that's true, since The Tribune's Chris Kuc had that juicy item confirming Huet's start down lower in a breaking news post on the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler squabble about reading "The Red Badge of Courage" and the literary implications it may have on the NHL..

Huet is back in the saddle. In fact, Kuc has Huet quoted saying he felt good about getting a chance to start again.

Myself, I think Q let us know once more for emphasis that Huet will be their guy this season, win or lose, and Niemi is just a good stopgap to be used sparingly.

Actions are known to speak louder than words. So while Q will have the appropriate excuses and trite explanations ready, the guy he didn't pick will be as important as the guy he did and this decision will resound for months to come..

Game, set, matchless madness. Perhaps Q just flips a coin in the back room to see who goes in net, although he would need to be waterboarded to admit such an easy solution.

He indicated before Niemi beat Calgary that the backup deserved to see what he could do for a while as a starter. That lasted one win and a whole period, when Vancouver drove out Niemi with three goals on 12 shots Saturday night. Huet played the last two periods, allowing two goals from 16 shots.

These guys can't quit competing, even if it's the very same game, and it always comes out a close call. Problem is, what's the right call?

For a guy who only knows about last call and wrong calls, I bow to my superiors and ask you to inform the Hawks' brass what Q should do to quell any growing disquiet and unease about the Blackhawks' goaltending.

Niemi, after all, has already built a small legion of followers who see him as the answer to an inevitable defeat long short of a title if Huet gets the call in the postseason.

Q follows his past patterns in sticking with Huet.  He isn't deviating from form. The Hawks have gone back to Huet all season when push came to shove, seemingly trying to convince him and us that he is the No. 1 goalie that some critics contend he never will be.

Plus, Q might have been tracking the latest Tribune poll on the question, where 204 respondents as of Monday morning had split the vote almost down the middle: 109 for Huet, 95 for Niemi. String out the vote and the division may come down the same way.

I trust no one is stuffing the ballot box, but then again it is Chicago, where money always talks loudest and bullshit always walks, leaving a trail of green shit behind, the ultimate Irish parade.

Bypassing Niemi will be interpreted in some precincts as a sign the Hawks aren't ready to believe their future is now by elevating Niemi to starting status. The backup apparently will still be treated as a backup, a good alternative the next time Huet sucks.

Based on last season and this season in Chicago, that time will come again for Huet, in spite of a normally stellar defense around him.

In some ways, Q can't win with either decision. But what does this say about his statement just days ago that Niemi had won a hard look in net? Does it raise the accusation of waffling from words uttered just a short while back? If you begin to waffle, you'll soon land in sticky syrup.

On the other hand, Huet might have wondered if he was passed over that maybe the club doesn't deep down view him as the guy to carry it to the frozen promised land this spring. Huet's fragile psyche might be shattering under the premise of an unspoken demotion such as this, and Huet can ill afford to be fighting a mental war when his entire body of work is so thin.

Then again, it's the Oilers. Maybe Colin Fraser or Dustin Byfuglien or trainer Mike Gapski or the venerable Jacques Cloutier could have started in goal and stymied egregious Edmonton, where the vibrant memories of Gretzky and Messier are nothing but cold soup these days.

The Blackhawks have scored 22 power-play goals in 25 road games, fifth best in the NHL. In contrast, the Oilers have given up 24 power-play goals in 27 home games, more than anybody else in the league except for Philadelphia. Sounds like a clue for victory to me.

The Hawks kill penalties at a success rate of 85.6, the Oilers at 74.1. Looks like a hole you could drive your vintange 1960 Zamboni through.

Pull out the stats, look 'em over and there is no way the Hawks don't win 25-1 Tuesday. So the expectation is the 8-game trip will be rolling right along with a 4-2 record that at least insures it won't be a losing trek. and the goalie controversy will die down again.

I can't see a way the Hawks don't get back on the track at Edmonton, where thousands were said to show up Sunday at Rexall Place to watch the Oilers' skills competition.

That's quite a few more than have bothered to vote in the Trib over whether Huet or Niemi should start Tuesday. But what's at stake? Just an eventual championship chance that comes around in Chicago every few decades. Small potatoes.

While an Oilers' skills competition is a laughable irony all in itself, how many devoted Hawks fans would show up if their team was bottom of the barrel and also going up against two NFL semifinal games on TV for the Super Bowl pairing?

You just can't take egregious Edmonton and its disgraced squad for granted, because they both know a little something about hockey there, be it good and bad. So let's lower our estimation to a 15-2 victory Tuesday.

Either Niemi or Huet should beat Edmonton. But the bigger point is what statement Q has made. I think it's the same one. Huet or Bust? If Huet is no good, the Hawks won't win the championship, because it appears Niemi will never get their full trust this season.

Maybe it's true the Hawks are blessed to have two dependable goalies. Maybe it's also true a team without a clear-cut No. 1 goalie is cursed not to win the Stanley Cup, as Jeremy Roenick contended recently.

Maybe the Huet supporters and Niemi backers should meet at United Center and have it out. Bring brass knuckles, switchblades and vodka.

At least we can get hockey on Chicago TV at the top of the hour. Sometimes progress means you have to draw blood.

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  • Even Q said after the game that Niemi was not pulled because of bad play, but rather an attempt to change the momentum. I know some will disagree, but the goals scored on Niemi were not "bad" goals let in by him - but rather good, hard play by the Canucks and good fortune for them as well. Watch the video.
    - First goal: Crazy bounce off the end boards, Sopel misses it, it caroms off Ladd's skate and slides right past a lazy Barker to a wide open Canuck in the slot.
    - Second goal: Bad pass from Seabrook is intercepted. Niemi makes 3 or 4 saves on a crazy goalmouth scramble, 5 Hawks are outworked by 3 Canucks as it hits the post and is eventually stuffed in.
    - 3rd goal: Niemi makes a nice reaction save on a screened shot. Two Canucks in front of the net to one Hawks defender. Bernier doesn't even look where he's shooting and it just happens to to go through the tiniest gap along the post just an Niemi closes it.

    Sure, Niemi might have done something different to stop those, but you could say that about pretty much any goal in the NHL. There is a difference between a bad goal and bad luck. Honestly, do you think Huet plays any of those goals differently than Niemi if he's in net for that first period? And do you think he would have better results? I'm guessing no. Those scrambling situations aren't exactly his strong suit either.

    I think if Q goes with Huet on Tuesday we have learned nothing. Niemi has had a great season so far, and you can't take that away with one tough period and a few goals that were perhaps due to bad luck more than anything else. I'd love to see Niemi start in Edmonton to see how he responds.

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    Guitar Man, as you're obviously angling for the gig as The Nieminator's PR guy, consider yourself hired.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    If anyone prefers to be the Frenchman's PR rep, I think the position is wide open for them at this point.

    I'd be the first to agree that Niemi would not get any goalie-of-the-century votes if his career was based on Saturday's game. But again, my question to Dave or anyone would be, did you watch the replays and honestly believe that Huet would have done any better on those goals? Seriously.

    As Fatty and Powwow suggest, we'd just like to see Niemi have a chance - see what he can do, and then go from there.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    If this is true then I have some serious doubts about our coaching staff.
    Way to not see any decisions through. Why not give Niemi an easy game after all.

  • In reply to puckpowwow:

    The Trib buried the lead, preferring to have Ladd respond to being called a coward. I'd prefer to have Huet respond to being called a sure loser by Roenick and others. It's been THE story and will remain THE story, as tired as Fatty and others get over the topic.

  • In reply to puckpowwow:

    As Niemi's newly appointed PR man, I obviously don't agree with the decision. But then again, there may not be a better team for Huet to gain some confidence back against than last-in-the-NHL Oilers. Hey, I'd love nothing more than to see a confident Huet winning games for the Hawks -- so for now, let's go Huet!!

    One has to wonder, though, if Q is also playing Huet against the Oilers so he can put Niemi back in when they face the Sharks Thursday.

    BTW, did anyone notice the Sharks will have had a full 5 days off at home before they play the Hawks? How nice - a fully rested Sharks team waiting for us to arrive....

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    As I just pointed out in a revised story, The Tribune has yanked out the news of a Huet start that was written down in a story that led with Ladd-Kesler. Does that mean Niemi gets a last minute reprieve? Checked the other 2 papers and no one is reporting Huet as starter. I don't know what it means, but why take out the news Huet will be the starter?

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Actually, Mister K, Lenny Z. over at the paper owned by the Wirtzes is reporting that the Count of Monte Cristo makes his return to the twine tomorrow.

    The Oil may be a little too greasy for Mark Greco Roman's liking. BTW, MGRW, I have it on good authority Cristo's contract with L'Or

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Thank God. I was worried there for a minute that I wouldn't get to see Huet start in 3 straight games. All's right with the world, provided the Oilers don't kick ass.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Good thing the goofey/sarcastic rumors Dave makes up are more reliable/accurate/informative than the hockey coverage by our lovely news papers.

    And does it bother anyone else how nice our coaching staff is. I mean really. Arent they allowed to say, man this guy sucks right now but were working to fix it because we have no other options. Not oh he's fine blah blah blah win as team lose as team. So much pressure to be a professional athelete (insert sarcasm). Sorry youre one of the few people who get to do what they love for a living and a shit ton of money. Makes me sick. 1st month of season ok to say getting the feel needs to get comfortable. Half way through, no way.

    Anyone see ESPN's power rankings where pierre decided the Hawks still looked good losing 5-1 as if that is possible? What brand of glue is he sniffing?

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    Fatty, just doing my bit to add to the endless flow of info-tainment that continues to transform Ye Good Olde Hockey Game.

    And BTW/FYI/FWIW Monsieur Pierre Lebrun only smokes the finest Lebanese Gold. No glue for him.

    If Georges Laraque can find his plane ticket, he'll be in Edmonton tomorrow night. That is, if StanBow doesn't trade Sharp and Barker for Souray first.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    ...and to the Hawkey Humans who think Roenick Is Right: the Vegas oddsmakers have the Blackhawks leading the field as 4-1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

    Do the guys with the bent noses know something JR doesn't?

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Why Vegas says what they say (source espn.com)
    1. 4th in the league in goals for/game
    2. 5th in the league total goals
    3. 2nd in the league total goals against
    4. 2nd in the league goals against/game
    5. 2nd in the league shots for/game
    6. 1st shots against/game
    7. 6th ranked power play in the league
    8. 4th ranked penalty kill

    Theyre a +50 as a team

    Pretty impressive numbers. JR says some real real stupid stuff and is a big dumb idiot at times. I think hes jelous of this team but in his defense the overall save percentage at 15th (90.7) in the league which is the only real statistical blemish.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    We need to keep some perspective guys when looking at stats. Not all shots on goal are equal nor are all saves. Looking back at the last 3 games, the hawks and their goalies lost against two hot teams. Both the Canucks and the Sens have won 5 in a row, and they won against the Flames, a team that has now lost 6 in a row. My point: putting Niemi in net against the Canucks, based on his play against the Flames and based on Huet's play against the Sens, was wrong.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    If the defense doesn't clear away the loose change, no goalie will be able to save the 3rd chance in today's NHL. The team with the best D will win regardless who our goalie is. Even Kiprusoff (my personal fav) could't have beat the Canucks with the sloppy D. Mmm ... Kiprusoff.

    Huet has to be the man. Niemi doesn't appear to be a rookie Cam Ward or Carey Price. More importantly, the "D" has to be "the man."

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    Mister Kayne is correct, and I support his message.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    yea, give that man a beer.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    I also agree.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    Just FYI...

    Cam Ward rookie year:
    28 games - 14 wins
    0 shutouts
    SV % - .882
    GAA - 3.68

    Carey Price rookie year:
    41 games - 24 wins
    3 shutouts
    SV % - .920
    GAA - 2.56

    Antti Niemi rookie year so far:
    18 games - 13 wins
    4 shutouts
    SV % - .918
    GAA - 1.99

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    The unpublished stat: Ward & Price were forced to be the #1 guy. There's a certain mindset there. Huet has to have a total breakdown for him to not be the #1. It won't be enough if he's merely unreliable. Maybe the reason Niemi's stats are so good is due to not having the pressure of #1. You know goalies and their mindset? You might describe it as thin ice.

    The 3-1 ratio for games was working so far. I think it's a good plan where both goalies can succeed. It's the defense and forwards taking care of their zone that's the key to the end game, not the tending.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    We have the goalie with the best GAA in the entire league sitting on our team right now, and you guys would rather not give him a chance? Aren't you even slightly curious to see what this guy can do? Who knows, maybe he'll flop under the pressure.... but maybe not. It's all just speculation until we try it.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    So Guitar Man, are you ready to hand over the Hawks' destiny solely to Niemi when history has proven that reliable tandems can win Stanley Cups?

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Dave, I'm a fan of any Hawk, or any duo or group of Hawks. As I've maintained all year, I don't care who's in goal for the team, be it solo or tandem, as long as they do it well. Heck, I'd support Big Buff strapping on the pads if he can keep the puck out of the net.

    Trust me, I'd be the happiest man on the east coast if Huet gets on a roll and he and Niemi tandem the rest of the way to win the Cup. But I'd be just as happy to see Huet win every game, or Niemi win every game. We're all just looking for the answers now before the playoffs start.

  • Gentleman, I rest my case. One for, one against. It's a photo finish at the finish line, but will that be the Cup championship? Someone must emerge as the frontrunner.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Mike, I'm surprised you didn't mention the ongoing talks with Christian Soucy.

    What's more, Josh Thibault being not completely satiated as Craig Anderson's personal coach, it would seem just a matter of time before T-Bo returns triumphantly to Chicago.

    When that happens, Monsieur Huet has graciously offered to facilitate that transition by retiring to become the playing owner of the Swiss League's Lausanne Leinenkugels.

    Isn't life grand?

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Eh. How I loathe this argument.

    Personally I would play mind games with Huet, shut him down the rest of the road trip... Maybe 2 or 3 starts at the most before the olympic break. He obviously does not respond to the "everything is gonna be ok youll figure it out" routine, time to bring that stashe hammer down. Let the kid have his shot, I mean things cant get worse. Then rotate and ride who ever is hot for the last month into the playoffs.

    Because in all honesty as long as the Hawks dont crap the puck away between the blue lines theyre going to be fine regardless of who is between the pipes.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    Fatty, StanBow has promised to make everyone feel better about the D by swinging a deal for Scott Niedermayer.

    Well, he didn't promise, but he didn't say he wouldn't.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    It has to be Niemi. Has to be.
    We can't give up on him that quickly. He won that right, so we can't let three tuff goals that Huet wouldn't have stopped either be the deciding moment of his career. Give him some more starts, let him work some jitters out and get comfortable in the position before passing a complete judgement.
    Besides, Huet is not the answer, plain and simple. If you think he is then your not watching or can't recognize weak play.
    Still not sure Niemi is the answer, im just sure that Huet is not, especially come playoffs.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    "Cristobal Huet will start in goal for Blackhawks against Oilers on Tuesday."...per Mike's own Chicago Tribune.

    The Lausanne Leinenkugels have given their approval.

  • In reply to fattybeef:

    Don't get sick of the argument yet, Fatty. We got a few months to go and there's no vaccine available for the Hawks goalie situation.

  • I like this post!

  • Of any game this season, I think this one is ripe for a huet/niemi controversy. Regardless, I think Niemi will get his due with more starts this season. In the meantime, Huet starting tonight would in no way prevent that from being the case. But I think that Q is going to stick with Huet tonight and not try anything new until he gets a winning record and/or point total out of the 8 game trip. The hawks are 3/2 on the trip so far and we are acting like the ship is sinking. My guess: Huet starts tonight and niemi starts thursday in San Jose (obviously whoever gets this game has the true nod confidence anyways) regardless of how Huet does. Hardly controversial for huet or niemi cheerleaders. Then ride the hot goalie from there.

  • How was the fact that the hawks are playing San Jose on thursday not mentioned once in this article by the way? Do you really think that isn't something Q has considered?

  • In reply to jdudhead:

    Simple, jdud. I write it one game at a time, just like I had to hear from all those athletes and coaches all those years. Don't look beyond this game. And dammit I'm a guy that always sticks by the program as outlined, although I have occasionally colored outside the lines since I was 2.

  • Go back a few posts by Mike and we see a run down of Huet's career. Besides a hot 13 game stretch there is no reason to place any hope in his becoming a strong enough goaltender to win a Stanley Cup. Niemi stills shows that promise. If the team does not give Niemi some of the easier games, and a consistent run of games to build his experience and find a comfort in a possible starting position, then we will go into the playoffs with two backup goalies. Because, that is what Huet is. Huet has had chance upon chance to prove himself and failed time and time again. Let us move on.
    There is some truth in JR's comments and the coaching staff should be assessing that situation. If they don't agree with them to some degree then I question their assessment. I might not play as much hockey as I used to, but I gave a huge chunk of my life to it, I can recognize talent and have a basic understanding of the psyche of a goaltender. Huet does not have it. He is a strong backup.
    All in all, I am just thrilled that the Hawks are this good to be having these conversations. Regardless of what happens, it has already been a fun year and so was last year.

  • In reply to puckpowwow:

    Yea I made that statistical argument and on a post the other day recoginized you were a bit more correct on the assessment of Huet. I felt someone had to give him a chance. Oh well.

    Heres some fun news. The smack talk with the nucks starts.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/nhl/news/story?id=4857548

  • In reply to puckpowwow:

    It boils down to this for me: if Q had never said Niemi deserved a hard look as starter, and told reporters he was going outside of his normal rotation to start him in Calgary, no biggie. But once you do that, and he wins in Calgary, and you lift him after one period and three goals in Vancouver, you show how wafer thin your trust is in Niemi. Bad move by Q to set up Niemi as a possible No. 1, only to know he'd yank it from him when the going got rough. Maybe Scotty Bowman likes that kind of coach. Players don't.

  • In reply to puckpowwow:

    Puck-P-Wow, whether Cristo is a 'Number One' or not, can be debated into the next decade.

    Fact is, most NHL teams have questions about their goaltending.

    Second fact is, the Hawks haven't had a solid tandem since The Eddie and Dom Show, and was the Belfour-Hasek tandem really THAT good?

    Unless you've got a Miller, Brodeur or a Lundqvist--and even then--a team needs two relatively reliable goalies and strong team D.

    Everybody raves about Kiprusoff, Nabokov and Luongo, but come playoff time last year, each one of them wilted.

    If you look at the last four goalies to win a Cup (Fleury, Osgood, Giguere, Ward), NONE of them is having a good year.

    Goalies are, based on everything we can see from the fan's viewpoint, flaky.

    You can go back half a century--which Mister Kiley and I can testify to, though certainly with reluctance to admit it--and that aspect certainly hasn't changed.

    Plante? Hall? Sawchuk? Bower? All individuals out of the ordinary.

    Did the Islanders worry about whether Billy Smith or Chico Resch were in goal when they were a dynasty? And have you looked at their numbers?

    Did the Mike Vernon-Chris Osgood combo strike fear into the hearts of opponents?

    So to me, the whole Huet-Niemi debate's a non-debate. They're both good, and if the team plays the way they should in front of them, should be good enough.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Hang onto your hats folks, I think Morris actually said something that makes sense - and in English to boot! Well done, Dave.

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    Way to go Morris. I actually could read a whole comment without my ADD kicking in. We all agree. On to tomorrow's column. Maybe it'll be about Buff's hat trick or Campbell blocking a shot.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    Or Huet's shutout. And that should insure Niemi starting against San Jose. And, by the way, let's hope this agreeing with Morris is a blip or you're going to kill this blog.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    I like that Foley can wash out my incoherent babbling by saying the Hawks could go 6-2 "or better" on the trip if they beat Edmonton. As all my math teachers and my accountants will tell you, I can't add. But going better than 6-2 on this trip will be a historic moment.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    I do have to give credit to Konroyd, Foley and Edzo for all stressing pregame that Huet had better step it up and be much better. Considering that Foley and Edzo were cheerleading Huet earlier in the season when it wasn't deserved, a dose of reality can't hurt. It also tells me Huet is scaring the hell out of the insiders for them to be tempering their comments.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    At least the Edzo/Konroyd controversy has been settled... For now. Go Hawks!

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