Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville may have made a final goal-tending statement this weeked as he opted to start Antti Niemi in back-to-back games over Christobal Huet going into the Olympic break. Niemi was mediocre during Saturday's game against Atlanta, allowing 4 goals through regulation, but was rewarded with the start on Sunday for his stellar performance in the decisice shootout during which he surrendered no goals.
Niemi's performance on Sunday was equally double-sided with numerous stellar saves, and a couple arguably soft goals. Although he surrendered one
goal in the shootout, Niemi looked solid throughout the game-- especially considering the recently sloppy Blackhawk defense-- and shined at moments throughout the game, like these turnover stops in the 2nd period.
After the 5-4 win against the Blue Jackets on Sunday, Niemi has started each game during the Hawks' now 4-game winning streak, while initial starter Huet has sat on the bench since his loss to Phoenix on Feb. 5. Being granted the start for back-to-back games heading into the lengthy Olympic break shows that Quenneville's goalie situation may not be much of a situation anymore. With four straight starts and four straight wins now under his belt, Niemi is making the decision easy for coach Q.
While Huet has not recieved much support outside of the team, most remain skeptical to the shelf-life of either Hawk net-keeper going into the playoffs. That being said, the two have combined for an NHL-leading 2.31 goals against per game, with Niemi averaging 2.16 and Huet 2.29. While this may be more of a testament to the Hawks success with their puck-possession style of gameplay and overall stellar defense, this type of goalie success cannot be ignored this far into the season.
The debate between Huet and Niemi will likely persist until either Huet is moved off of the roster or the playoffs reach us and Quenneville names his starter. Until then, I think it best to see what Niemi can give the team. Both him and Huet can surrender the soft goal, but Niemi seems to find a way to stop the potentially back-breaking ones while Huet's on-and-off-again performances mirror those of Rex Grossman during the mind-numbing "Good Rex vs. Bad Rex" mania of 2006.
Coach Quenneville seems to have acknowledged his preference for Antti Niemi, and I for one think that is the way that things should be.