The Detroit Red Wings are still scary, despite being in 8th place in the Western Conference standings.
They proved that this afternoon, beating the Blackhawks at the United Center, 5-4.
The 2nd period was eerily reminiscent of old Hawks-Wings games. I expected let downs like that when our best answer for their top line was Kyle Calder and Tyler Arnason, but not now. A 5-goal period simply can't happen, especially when the defense is statistically the best in hockey. That brings me to the goaltending....
I'm not really sure what to say or think anymore about Cristobal Huet. Yes, the entire team fell apart after Kane's disallowed goal (more on that later), and yes the defense was brutal, but Huet simply can't let in 4 goals in that short of a time period.
Huet looked terrific in the 1st period. He looked confident, he was quick post to post, and was challenging shooters. After the 2 quick goals in the 2nd, things changed. His posture looked different, he was fighting pucks off, and was back in his crease. This happens very often for Huet when things begin spiraling out of control.
Defensive breakdowns are going to happen. There will be turnovers and odd man rushes in the playoffs. It can't be a valid excuse for Huet to give up goals in bunches every single time.
Huet's save percentage is officially below .900. It's been lingering right around there all season, and his 4 goals against on 17 shots dipped him below the line today. That statistic puts him 41st in the NHL among goaltenders. That means his save percentage is worse than every other starter in the league, along with 11 back-ups. Any way you slice it, that is unacceptable. Especially when the line-up in front of you is the deepest in hockey.
I've gotta expect Joel Quenneville to give Antti Niemi another shot. If the biggest concern with Niemi is that "he is a rookie", and therefore can't handle the load in the playoffs, that isn't a good enough reason anymore. We have seen time and time again that Huet will lose leads, let in soft goals, and allow his confidence to be destroyed by circumstances outside of his control. How is that any different from an inexperienced rookie?
Niemi has better raw goaltending ability than Huet. He is quicker, has a slightly better glove, and usually makes key saves for his team. All things considered, I believe Huet's confidence is shattered beyond repair. In fact, I thought it was after the Dallas game in October when he gave up the dump-in goal from center ice.
Either way, the goaltending situation is a disaster that upper management has brought upon themselves. Former GM Dale Tallon signed Huet to a big deal in 2008, presumably because he thought Nikolai Khabibulin would be on his way out. Things changed, Huet had to split time with Khabibulin, and eventually watched most of the playoffs from the bench. Huet's career in Chicago started off awkwardly, and he has never been able to fully rebound.
The external circumstances could be to blame for Huet's failures. Or maybe...just maybe.....Cristobal Huet isn't very good.
The officiating today was the worst it has been all season long. Patrick Kane scored a goal in the 2nd period that would have put the Hawks up 3-0, but Dustin Byfuglien was called for goaltender interference and the goal was waived off. It is highly doubtful that Detroit would have scored 5 unanswered goals had the Hawks been up 3-0.
Marian Hossa was taken down late in the 3rd, and nothing was called. A penalty would have sent the Hawks on a 6 on 4 with a chance to tie the game.
Calls like these, while uncontrollable, can still change the outcome of a hockey game. At the very least, the NHL needs to work on becoming more consistent so the players know what type of game they are playing.
Sunday afternoon was very worrisome for Hawks fans. The goaltending situation didn't get any better, as Quenneville now faces as tough a decision as he has all season long. The team's recent inability to play a full 60 minutes is a concern as well.
The Blackhawks are one of the best and deepest team in hockey, but if they want to make a run at a Stanley Cup, they will need a better effort in the postseason. The first step toward reaching that point as a team would be if one of these goalies stepped up and said "I'm the guy." Will one of them do that before mid-April? We all better hope so, for the sake of the Hawks as well as our mental health.