Believe it or not, there was a time earlier this season when goaltending was considered the Achilles heel of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Thus far, those fears have been unfounded. Cristobal Huet sports a 14-7-2 record, 2.18 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, and rookie backup Antti Niemi just posted a 4-0 shutout of Tampa Bay Sunday night.
"It's been a nice 1-2 punch," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of his goaltending tandem. "Niemi's solid. You see his size and his presence in the net. He challenges and his rebound control is in order. The last two starts he might have been overworked. Tonight he did what he had to do. He keeps himself ready whether he's out for two weeks or out for a week."
Being a backup to a goalie like Huet, who thrives on ice time, can be a tough task since you need to take care of business whenever you get the nod, be it a couple days or a couple weeks between starts.
"You don't want to feel too confident, but I feel pretty good," said Niemi, whose start against the Lightning was just his third since Nov. 7. Pretty impressive, then, that he posted his third shutout of the season. "I've never played so many shutouts. I've had good stretches, but not like this."
Netting four goals in the win also took some heat off the Blackhawks' offense, which had not been up to snuff in recent weeks, having not posted more than two goals in a game in the previous four games. Quenneville has been mixing and matching liberally to find line combinations that work.
"It's pretty frustrating right now, but hopefully we can fix it soon," Patrick Kane
told reporters. "You want to score more goals. I don't think you can be concerned with the team we have. It might just be a little funk right now. (We're) trying to get used to different lines and different things around here."
"We need to work on second efforts and gathering pucks up," Jonathan Toews
told the Chicago Tribune. "Every time we get a shot, the puck is coming out of their zone and we're fighting in the neutral zone or our own zone to get the puck back. We have to get our confidence back and blow the door open. Once we do, things will start working for us."Tough loss for Columbus --
Derek Dorsett isn't on the Blue Jackets' roster to net 50 goals. He's an agitating, energy player, and had been doing a good job during a stretch for Columbus before he broke his hand in a fight with Anaheim's Mike Brown last week.
Dorsett had just gotten back into the lineup after missing three games with a concussion when the latest injury occurred.
"It's too bad for him because he was really playing well," coach Ken Hitchcock told Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch.
Hitchcock went on to say he was unhappy with his top line of Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius in the 3-1 loss to Anaheim Saturday, saying they "looked tired."
Some good news for Columbus is the return of left wing Fredrik Modin, who hadn't played at all this season until Saturday, owning to a sprained knee suffered in the preseason. Modin logged 12:16 and had four shots.
"I felt pretty good," Modin said. "Obviously, there were a few situations where I felt a little off having only practiced a couple times with the team. That's going to take some time."Hey, here are my hands! --
Todd Bertuzzi played the role of the sage goal scorer Friday night, noting to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News that, "Every once in a while, the hands come back. They've been gone for about eight years, but they're back."
You can't argue that point with Bertuzzi, who netted a pair in the 3-2 overtime win against Anaheim, and then added two more in another 3-2 OT win, Saturday against Nashville.
"Bert's been playing well for a while, he's just been snakebite around the net," coach Mike Babcock said. "But he's been a goal scorer for a long time, so if he's starting to feel it, that would be a big help to us."
Prior to the two-game heroics, Bertuzzi had just 4 goals on the season.
"I owe some props to my buddy Dave," Bertuzzi said. "He's an ironworker and he built me a post with a puck smashed right into it. He brought it over to the house and he said, 'You've hit nine posts in a row; that's got to change sooner or later.' Hopefully, that's helped change my luck."Blues stinging after loss to Oilers --
Blowing a three-goal lead on home ice and losing is about as unacceptable as it gets in the NHL, even more so when allowing four third-period goals. For the St. Louis Blues, who are just 5-10-2 at Scottrade Center, the failure is much more acute.
So the Blues went through a "conditioning skate" Saturday morning and nary a word of complaint was heard from the players who know a stinker of an effort when they see one.
"We actually got back and said, 'You know what, we're still not done ... we haven't repaid what we deserve,'" forward B.J. Crombeen told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"We said all the right things in between periods," Barret Jackman said. "When we got on the ice, we didn't do them. I think that's been the theme all year. We know what we need to do, it's just when we step on the ice we're not doing it."
Coach Andy Murray met with the team about the problems at home earlier in the week. He called a timeout in the third period against the Oilers to reinforce the point.
"It wasn't a coach screaming or yelling at anybody," Murray told Rutherford. "It was telling them, 'This is what you said you need to do, now we've got to do it.'
"You can't go into a protection mode where you're just sitting back," Murray said. "That's not the message we were giving. Maybe I shouldn't talk about being aggressive and forechecking ... maybe we would do it. Because I'm talking about that before the third period, that we need to play hard, we need to play in their zone, we need to stay aggressive on the forecheck. I believe that we said all of the right things."
Ah, so why no response?
"It's kind of a tough question to answer," Crombeen said. "I think everyone on our team knew that we had to stay aggressive, we had to get pucks deep and keep going after them. It's one of the first things you learn when you're playing hockey ... if you sit back, it's not a good thing and teams are going to attack you, especially in this League.
"If you could hear the bench, we were saying, 'Let's go at them.' We were saying that on the bench and that's what we were being told to do. For whatever reason, I don't know if we were tentative or nervous, we didn't get the job done, and there's nowhere to put the blame but on ourselves."
"I wouldn't have been surprised if management was (booing) with them, the coaching staff was with them, maybe (goalies Ty Conklin and Chris Mason) too, because those guys put their efforts in," David Backes said. "We sat back and let a team skate all over us and make plays all around us while we watched."Sullivan riddles Columbus, again --
After scoring a hat trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night, Steve Sullivan was told he has owned Columbus over the years, totaling 16 goals and 27 assists in 39 games against the Blue Jackets.
"I didn't know that," Sullivan told reporters. "I thought my only good stats were against Nashville, before I got here."
Sullivan's 43 points against the Blue Jackets are the most against any one team in his career, which is now at 797 games and 631 points.
The secret of his success? Not surprisingly, Sullivan took no time to toot his own horn.
"Games like that are just lucky breaks, lucky shots go in when you don't expect them," he said. "Our line of late has been playing very well. Martin Erat with a recent hat trick, Jason Arnott with goals quite a bit lately. We've been clicking."
Sullivan has helped the Preds dominate the all-time series. Monday night's 5-3 win saw Nashville improve to 8-2-2 in the last 12 games played at Nationwide Arena. In Nashville, the Preds have a 13-game winning streak over Columbus.
All of this added to the current misery of the Blue Jackets, who are 2-5-3 in their last 10 games.
"We were slow with the puck and it's been like that for a while," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We made a lot of puck errors in our own end. Today was a microcosm of the season, to be honest with you. We create enough chances to score every night (but) it doesn't matter unless you are good from the red line back."
Author: Phil Coffey | NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director