Though he's coming off a loss, Nikolai Khabibulin has quietly put together the kind of season the Chicago Blackhawks expected when they signed him to a lucrative contract after the lockout.
Khabibulin will try to get the Blackhawks (14-14-5) back in the win column when they meet the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.
Khabibulin made 17 saves Wednesday, but allowed two third-period goals to Paul Kariya in a 2-1 loss to Central Division-leading Nashville.
"We played pretty well, but in the third period we gave the game away. You can't do that in your own building," Khabibulin said of just his second regulation loss in 11 games since coach Denis Savard took over for the fired Trent Yawney on Nov. 27.
Overall this season, Khabibulin is 12-6-2 with a 2.50 goals-against average. After leading Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004, he signed a four-year, $27 million deal with the Blackhawks, and followed with the worst season of his 10-year career, going 17-26-6 with a 3.35 GAA in 2005-06.
He has not fared well against the Maple Leafs for much of the last eight years. Since the start of the 1998-99 season when he was with Phoenix, Khabibulin is 1-8 with a tie and a 3.64 GAA against Toronto.
This is the first matchup between these Original Six teams at the United Center since Feb. 12, 2003. Toronto has won three straight visits to Chicago, while limiting the Blackhawks to a total of two goals.
Martin Havlat scored the lone Chicago goal in the loss to the Predators, giving him five in seven games since returning from a sprained ankle that sidelined him for more than seven weeks. Though he spent his first five seasons in the Northeast Division with Ottawa, Havlat has just four goals and 13 points in 19 career games versus Toronto.
The Maple Leafs (16-14-5) enter this contest dealing with injuries to two of their better players.
Alexei Ponikarovsky suffered an injured left arm in practice Thursday when he fell on Bryan McCabe's stick. He left the Maple Leafs' practice facility with his arm in a sling and is not expected to play in this contest.
Kyle Wellwood didn't practice because of a groin injury and accompanied the team to Chicago, but it's not immediately known if he will play.
Ponikarovsky had a career-high five-point game and Wellwood recorded his first NHL hat trick in a 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Leafs recalled right wings Ben Ondrus and Alex Suglobov from Toronto of the AHL on Thursday in case Ponikarovsky and Wellwood are unable to play.
After posting their best offensive game of the season with the rout of New York, the Maple Leafs had one of their worst overall efforts in a 7-3 loss to Florida on Tuesday.
Jeff O'Neill gave Toronto an early 1-0 lead before the Panthers - who are in last place in the Southeast Division - scored seven straight goals against Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Andrew Raycroft.
Former Maple Leafs Gary Roberts and Ed Belfour victimized their old team. The 40-year-old Roberts scored twice and Belfour, who turns 42 in April, made 33 saves.
"That was a huge blow to our team," Toronto's Hal Gill said.