Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks' tremendous 6-5 comeback win masks major problems in goal

If there were more NHL games like this, there would be a few million more hockey fans.

Who says there isn't enough offense in hockey? Not the Blackhawks, who crawled out of a 5-0 hole to win 6-5 in overtime against Calgary on Brent Seabrook's goal.

The back story is that Cristobal Huet is finished as the starting goalie. Not even his mother would start him now. I gave peace a chance. To hell with that. Now I'm willing to declare war--again.

Huet has to be out and Andy Niemi in as the starting goalie. Nothing else makes sense. Huet allowed the first three goals, while Niemi looked a little shaky after replacing him in the first period and giving up two more, but enough from the suck-up Huet defenders.

He sucks. He blows. He stinks. When Nikolai Khabibulin comes to town Wednesday with Edmonton to play the Hawks, coach Joel Quenneville might make a mistake and send Khabby into goal in place of Huet, as he did last season.

Since the Oilers might have a problem with that, Quenneville has no choice but to turn to Niemi, who toughened up in the final two periods against the Flames and allowed them nothing.

OK, Handy Andy, the job is yours to lose. Corey Crawford just got new life in Rockford. Cristobal is crisp toast.

Down 5-0 in the first period, the Hawks were finished. Kaput. Finis. Dead meat.

Never in their history had a Chicago team rallied from that large a deficit. Luckily, the game was on Versus, where they show hockey in between gutting deers and shooting birds.

But ESPN now wishes at least for one night that it was showing the NHL. The prime-time station would if there were more classic games such as this.

Maybe this is a sign that the Hawks can help convince the major networks that the NHL deserves more attention.

Sparkplug John Madden got it started with a goal late in the first period for the Hawks. But it wasn't Madden that started the comeback. It was underrated Troy Brouwer, a knockaround guy who should be first star for this effort.

Brouwer's energetic hits late in the opening period, a trend that he carried over the rest of the game, breathed some life back into the Hawks' dead body. He deserves to be considered the catalyst of this comeback. I name him the No. 1 star.

Patrick Kane was sensational as usual. What else is new? Fed niftily by Dave Bolland, a great setup guy, Kane skated into the middle and unleashed a shot that beat Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff. That was the start back in the second period, now down three goals.

Shortly after Kris Versteeg narrowly missed a shorthanded goal by bouncing it off the post, Kane made one of his patented pretty passes to Dustin Byfuglien on a 2-on-1 breakaway. Byfuglien scored to convert after a Flames giveaway at the blue line.

Even Dusty looks prolific with Kane as his sidekick.

As bad as the Hawks were in a horrendous first period, when the Flames' forecheck was responsible for setting the flow and resulting in many of their five goals, you could sense Calgary was sliding downhill once the middle period began.

After Bolland's goal cut the Hawks deficit to a goal in the second period, Jarome Iginla decided to pick a fight with Brouwer. Iginla won, but that was the only time Brouwer lost during the entire game.

Into the third period, the Hawks had firm control of the back-and-forth. Finally, thanks to Jonathan Toews winning a faceoff, Duncan Keith sent a slap shot that Patrick Sharp's tremendous finesse tipped past Kiprusoff for a 5-5 tie.

You just knew this one couldn't end in a weak-assed shootout. Thanks to Seabrook, it didn't. Seabrook showed some muscle earlier in the game that also helped turn the tide.

"It was unbelievable," Seabrook said. "We just weren't battling hard enough (early). Calgary came out with guns blazing. It'll give us a lot of momentum."

The Hawks offense can overcome quite a bit. But you can't ask them to cover up for the porous Huet, whose confidence is lower than Charlie Brown's.

The Hawks may have survived here against a team they eliminated in last season's playoffs. But the Flames and the rest of the NHL are on notice.

The Hawks don't have a proven goaltender. So opponents are going to believe they can be had. And, you know what, they can be had.

Over the long haul, they will be. The burden now falls on general manager Stan Bowman.

It isn't an envious position. How do you change goalies not in midstream, but a few games into getting your feet wet? How do you make a trade that sets everything right? You most likely don't. But Bowman better die trying to make a miracle deal.

There seems no way the Hawks' Stanley Cup dreams can be realized with Huet in goal.

It was a good night. But it'll be a bad morning. There will be a hangover once the spirited comeback fades.

The Hawks have major problems. Solid defense. Great offense. No goaltending.

If they can win 6-5 every night, no problem. If I can get laid every night, no problem.

Neither one is going to happen. Where do we go from here?

I'm going to bed. Unfortunately, to sleep.

If this was a year ago, Denis Savard would be fired. Wait a minute? He was, wasn't he?

The Hawks' glorious victory masks their deep-seated woes. Answers anyone?

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30 Comments

FearlessFreep said:

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Just saw the highlights on NHL Network. I think it can now be confirmed that Huet has the same disease that afflicted Rex Grossman. Could Huet really suck this much? I think the guy is really feeling (and now reeling) from the pressure of being the number one guy. Did his demotion as the number two goalie last year seal his fate? After a while the guy may be thinking he is no better than a backup. It's going to take a lot guts for him to come back and prove himself otherwise. If he can't, the front office better hope Niemi can become a Steve Mason clone, or maybe more appropriately another Tuukka Rask.

The good news is that the Hawks know they are never out of it. They played a supposedly top notch defense and managed to climb out of a huge hole of their own making. One wonders how good this team can be offensively when Hossa is available.

Dave Morris said:

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Freep, I get the sense that Mike is saying Huet blew it.

Do you get that feeling too?

Dave Morris said:

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PS Freep, please...no rash Rask comparisons. The Avs torched Tukka tonight as they beat the Bs.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, you already gave us the answer, and his name is The Nieminator.

Hasta la vista, Huet.

cubby23(eric) said:

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Good luck with that. (moving Huet)

While Niemi looks more solid than last year, he's still raw and untested. I don't want that being the solution in a potential thrill ride season that should last into June.

It's early and Huet has looked...hmm...woeful, especially that ugly tendency he has of dropping his glove hand low (like he thinks he's got the speed in that glove hand to raise it back up against NHL caliber snipers...sighs.) He still has experience and over the course of the season should look better. Is it enough? I don't know, but he started slow last season and that's why Khabby won the job. Then he reappeared when Khabby got hurt and was fairly stable. He's not going to shut teams down with his post-to-post prowess or glove hand, but he can be effective enough with a team like the Hawks possess. Question is (in my mind at least) can Bowman swing a deal for a true #1 netminder without depleting the offense?

Dave Morris said:

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Cubby, Howie Mandel has invited StanBow and Cristo to appear on "Deal/No Deal". Check your local TV guide for broadcast times in your area.

Sailor said:

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Had to listen on radio. Thanks for the great job WGN. As a subscriber to DirecTV, I was not able to see the game since they no longer carry Versus.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Dreams of dumping Huet for a bag of pucks are just that. Who is going to take him and allow us to jettison his cap hit? Everybody wants him traded, no one makes an reasonable suggestions as to how this can actually get done. It's like trying to switch your girlfriend for her roommate. Though he may not remain number one, we are stuck with the French dude and his salary.

This is no defense of Huet, but the whole team kinda sucked in that five goal onslaught. When the Hawks D is bad, it is fugly bad and few goalies would survive that. Niemi faced few shots after the really bad softie goal he let in and I bet Huet could have made the few stops he did at that point. Do you give up a VERSTEEG! to make some team take Huet and give us a serviceable goalie in return? Given Huet's well publicized weakness with his glove, a VERSTEEG! is probably what it will take. Bolland or Brouwer is probably not enough.

Just my .02 anyway

Mike Kiley said:

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You are way too reasonable, a disease with which I have never been inflicted. Trading Huet is almost impossible. But if it did happen, the Hawks would have to part with someone such as Versteeg. Would you or wouldn't you? That'll be a big question.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Right now, I don't think I'm willing to part with what I think it would take. If Hossa comes back and is the same dominant player he was in Detroit, that might change my mind. In any discussion with other GM's right now, Stan has a weak hand and they know that.

One scenario I could see happen is this; once Hossa gets back, some of our young guns may look better then they really are because of who they are playing alongside. Right now, it would be impossible to ship out anything but top line talent because it is clear who our stars are. With a healthy Hossa, I'd be much more open to considering giving up top talent.

cubby23(eric) said:

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I won't defend Huet, but I will say Khabibulin used to be called Khabi-brutal his first few seasons here. It just seems like the Hawks need to find a way to develop a goalie because the free agent route has been costly and the results mixed.

I don't blame Huet for too much just because I see a Hawk blueline that is mostly soft and one that relies heavily on positional defense. They don't clear the crease like Hawk fans from the Norris days are use to, but they play the puck with their stick and they transition better than the most team's d-corps.

Mike Kiley said:

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If you're not defending Huet, and his teammates aren't playing defense for him, where does it all stop? I'm getting a little weary of it never being Huet's fault. He's always on the scene when the murder goes down. Just coincidence?
And who knows if Niemi is the answer. But starting Wednesday it's time to find out.

cubby23(eric) said:

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I agree Niemi needs a look and maybe an extended one, but are you confident with him as the guy in his first season leading this team to the Cup? You are right, that Niemi deserves the start Wed., something tells me he was going to get to play Wed. had last night not occurred, hopefully this just provides that spot. Last season it became very hard for Huet to play at home, boos reigned down very early when he got off to a slow start, and he seemed a little sharper on the road. Maybe it's best if he gets the bulk of the road work and Niemi plays more at home.

I'd rather see Bowman make a trade and get a bona fide #1 in here. The problem is still the cost and how any new goalie would impact the cap long term.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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I am blaming Huet. I've seen him enough to know if the Hawks want to be legit contenders they need to make a move. Here are two potential guys that I think can be had; Ilya Bryzgalov or Marty Turco. What do you think?

Dave Morris said:

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Hawkman, good luck trying to pry The Bryz outta Phoenix. He was brilliant last night in a 1-0 shootout win over the Sharks, BTW.

Marty Turco? You think Joe Nieuwendyk will make that deal? Do you think anyone will make a deal with StanBow for a goalie right now?

There are, however, some magic beans in Stan's desk. He may have to use them.

Yes, the Blackhawks were about as lousy last night in the 1st as a team can be...but they got it together for the win.

Cristo got crunched, and he looks more and more like The Existential Netminder, letting Fate rule him, instead of the other way around...so he has to somehow get himself back together. There are over five million reasons why.

Otherwise, it's The Nieminator Or Bust.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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I did see Bryz. That's the guy I'd like to have between the pipes. Phoenix front office is a complete mess, it wouldn't shock me if they could make that move. The Stars are going nowhere fast. I realize that it's going to cost the Hawks but it worth it. All I know is Huet is not the answer.

Dave Morris said:

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Hawkman, the Yotes just shutout the Sharkies and the Pingus. They're the best team defensively in the West right now. You don't think Don Maloney is gonna fall for any baloney...do you?

Mike Kiley said:

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I hear they are in secret negotiations with Tony Esposito after he safely skated onto the ice the other night. Why not?

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, you're kidding. I was sure Karakas had the inside track.

FearlessFreep said:

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Okay, after letting the euphoria and hangover pass over last nights victory, some things are obvious. One, the Hawks are a team that is never out of a game. That's good. One may wonder if the victory last night was a result of the never-say-die attitude of the Hawks or the complete meltdown of Calgary which seems to be a habit according to the Calgary press. Two, the goaltending will be a source of controversey throughout the year, but call me crazy - I still think Huet can become a competent, if not stellar, goaltender for the season. The Huet-Niemi tandem will be asked to win a few games this year, and I think they will. But with this offense, all they really need to do is keep them in the game - and really, isn't that what Niemi ultimately did last night? Finally, we've seen that the Hawks really need to get better starts than they've had so far this five game season...there is still a long way to go so I'm not convinced this is a trend. But I do recall last year how often they'd come out of the gate guns blazing and getting off to an early lead. They'll need to do that with the goaltending they appear to have.

Remember, it's still early - a lot is still yet to be seen.

Mike Kiley said:

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OK, I'll do it. I'll call you crazy. You're welcome.

Dave Morris said:

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Freep, so it was you passing all that gas, eh.

Craig Kanalley said:

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I mentioned before the season that the Hawks' biggest problem will be goaltending! Huet is not an NHL starter.

But you're right, Mike, they did a nice job of covering it up. If the offense can keep firing five, six goals a game, they'll be OK. Otherwise, goaltending is a sure weakness. At least when Huet is in net -- I'd like to see Niemi some more.

cubby23(eric) said:

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There's a difference between being a starter and being a top tier goalie. Last I checked he has the goods to be a starter in the league based on his past results, but maybe he just isn't in the top tier or top half of goalies (something he was paid to be). Similarly Khabibulin was brought in a few years back to be a top tier goalie. He was paid that way and expected to produce that way. He didn't until last season, a contract season I might add.

I wish that Niemi had a whole season's worth of experience under his belt, because we all saw what a playoff pressure cooker and a decent team did against a guy like Steve Mason in his rookie playoff campaign. I'd hate to throw Niemi into the fire and have him wilt late in the season. It's Bowman's job to fix this, let's hope the solution isn't costly to other aspects of the Hawk attack.

Dave Morris said:

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@Cubby(Eric), don't forget that among goalies, there's 'top tier', 'top shelf' and 'topless'.

Glenn Hall was 'top tier'. With Cristo, you go 'top shelf'. And with goalies like Eddie Belfour, 'topless' meant the bars where he did most of his off-ice training.

As for Niemi, you can water him all you want and he won't wilt. He's a coniferous rather than deciduous goalie. They grow those in Finland, ya know, where it's cold all year round.

But there is a solution in sight. QStache has ordered the troops to limit the opposition to 10 shots per game from here on in.

Get out the silver polish, already.

mbeck3000 said:

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I would be ok with losing Versteeg and Huet to get a deal done, for a real goaltender.. its such an important position. and the hawks have the depth to handle a trade like that.. were not going to win the cup with Huet. considering hes never won ANYTHING. not even a single playoff round.. "Boo-et" needs to go....

Dave Morris said:

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Yes, but is Versteeg OK with your idea?

Oh, and who's your dance partner in this trade scenario?

mbeck3000 said:

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hahah.. yeah.. dont think Versteeg will like that.. take one for the team Chris! hahahha... dance partner? hmmmmmm... Vesa Toskala? Marty Turco? dunno... but cant i dream?>hahahah

Dave Morris said:

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@MBeck, so you want to give the Hawks a Vesa-ctomy? Shame on you. Next you'll be calling Eddie Belfour.

Wait, Ed just sent me a text message.

Hey Kiley, help us out here. You're the wise guy in this bunch.

Mike Kiley said:

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I would have paid good money to be a wise guy. Alas, time trickles away like water through a urinal. Can't remember if that was Byron, Shelley or Keats.

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