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Goalie Grief Overshadows Ladd's Hat Trick; Now's The Time For A Change

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SarahSpain

Sports reporter, sarcastic smartass, music lover, funny gal.

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Sunday afternoon the Blackhawks blew a 2-0 lead over Detroit, allowing five straight second period goals en route to a 5-4 defeat. Andrew Ladd scored two of his three goals on the day in the third period to help bring Chicago within one, but their comeback ultimately fell short. The first career hat trick for the Hawks' forward was soured by another disappointing performance between the pipes.

The loss snapped a three-game win streak over the Red Wings and reminded fans that Chicago's division dominance will be tested come playoff time. The Red Wings may be clinging to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but they certainly don't play like an eighth seed opponent.

Detroit's offensive onslaught Sunday shined a spotlight on the Hawks' biggest weakness this season: goaltending. Of course, a netminder doesn't work alone--like an NFL quarterback, he's likely to get too much praise for a win and too much blame for a loss. For instance, a cursory glance at the box score of Sunday's game won't reveal the several costly turnovers that led to easy looks for the Red Wings. But whether he deserves all the blame or not, Cristobal Huet, who surrendered four straight goals before being pulled Sunday afternoon, will continue to be the most criticized Hawk.

In 46 games played, Huet's .898 save percentage puts him 42nd among qualifying NHL netminders, while his 2.38 GAA is 10th best. So basically: of the shots he sees, he doesn't stop enough.

In 24 games played, Antti Niemi is 26th in the league with a .909 save percentage, and fourth with a 2.25 GAA. He may be young and inexperienced, but his numbers are better. 
It's understandable that the Hawks would prefer to play the guy getting big-time money--that's usually how it works in sports. But the smart move would be to play the guy that's getting the job done, regardless of salary. Last year, Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin traded starts until it became clear that Khabi was the better man for the job. The same should--and will--happen with Niemi this year.

Coach Joel Quenneville needs to make a move now, to give the young Niemi as much confidence and experience as possible heading into the postseason. The Finnish Fortress, as he's known in internet circles, certainly isn't without fault, but he seems less likely to implode than his French counterpart.

A netminder is entitled to a bad day--look at Olympic gold medal goalie Roberto Luongo, who gave up five goals in the first period alone last Friday night at the United Center. The key is to keep those games to a minimum to give your team a fighting chance. Confidence is the name of the game, and, sadly, Huet has lost his. For two straight seasons, the Blackhawks have made him King of the Crease on opening day, and for two straight seasons, he's been overshadowed by his back-up.

It's time for the Blackhawks to cut their losses when it comes to their pricey pipe-minder. This team has the potential to bring a Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time in nearly 50 years and with the talent the Hawks have on both offense and defense, their goaltender won't need to be a one-man savior, a la Ryan Miller in the Olympics.  When it comes down to it, their goaltender won't need to stand on his head as much as he'll need to keep his head.

Niemi should get the nod.

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1 Comment

bigwhisker said:

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Easier said than done. I agree that Huet is *the* big question-mark for the Hawks going into the playoffs. He's great at times, but you need that Grant Fuhr-like ability to slam the door in those close 2-1 games. And that's where Huet was terrible (@ Montreal vs. the Hurricanes 4 years ago in the playoffs) -- 4 losses all by one goal.

You gotta have a goalie that can steal a game or two in a series, even with the high-revving offense of the Hawks. And Huet hasn't really done that.

Of course, Niemi is a huge roll of the dice....but it might be worth it. Worked for Cam Ward a few years ago, didn't it?

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