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Chicago Blackhawks vs. Colorado Avalanche

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GAME: Chicago Blackhawks (1-3-0) at Colorado Avalanche (2-2-0).

TIME: Friday, 9 p.m. EDT.

Nikolai Khabibulin was signed to a big free-agent deal in the offseason to give the Chicago Blackhawks strong goaltending behind a team in transition. Thus far, he hasn't lived up to expectations.

Khabibulin will try to help the Blackhawks post their first road win of the season when they visit the Colorado Avalanche.

Luring Khabibulin, a four-time All-Star, away from Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay was arguably the NHL's biggest offseason move and instantly gave the struggling Blackhawks credibility.

Signed to a four-year, $27 million contract, Khabibulin is obviously expected to post better numbers than his stats through four games. He has a 3.82 goals-against average and an .847 save percentage, among the league's worst in both categories.

Khabibulin wasn't particularly sharp in a 4-1 loss at St. Louis on Tuesday, allowing four goals on 23 shots, in the opener of a four-game road trip.

Despite the loss, Blackhawks coach Trent Yawney was upbeat.

"It was our best game of the year by a lot," he said. "It depends what your definition of success is. You've got to remember where we've been and where we're going. But it was a good start."

Tyler Arnason scored the lone goal for the Blackhawks, who were without captain Adrian Aucoin for a second straight game due to a groin strain.

Aucoin, another of Chicago's offseason signings, played 31:27 in Chicago's season opener, but has been on the ice for only four minutes since. Aucoin could return either Friday or Saturday against San Jose.

Arnason and right wing Pavel Vorobiev have points in three straight games for the Blackhawks.

Colorado appeared to be on its way to a third straight win when it took a 3-0 lead against visiting Nashville on Wednesday, but the Predators scored twice in the second period and three times in the third for a 5-4 victory.

"I think when we had them 3-0, we let up too much," Colorado's Steve Konowalchuk said. "If we go into that period 3-0, that's pretty much our game. But we let up for five minutes."

Konowalchuk and defenseman John-Michael Liles each had a goal and an assist for the Avalanche, who are tied with Detroit for the most goals in the Western Conference with 17.

Right wing Marek Svatos has goals in all three games he's played this season, including his first career hat trick in a 7-3 victory over Calgary on Monday. He is tied for the league lead with five goals.

STANDINGS (through Oct. 12): Blackhawks - 2 points, 3rd place (tied), 4 PB, Central Division. Avalanche - 4 points, 4th place, 2 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blackhawks - Vorobiev, 4 goals; Brent Seabrook, 5 assists; Vorobiev and Arnason, 6 points; Matthew Barnaby, 13 PIM. Avalanche - Svatos, 5 goals and 6 points; Liles, 4 assists; Ian Laperriere, 19 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 12): Blackhawks - Power play: 20.0 percent (6 for 30), 10th in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.8 percent (21 for 27), 23rd. Avalanche - Power play: 19.2 percent (5 for 26), 13th. Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (23 for 28), 18th.

GOALTENDERS: Blackhawks - Khabibulin (1-3-0, 0 SO, 3.81 GAA); Craig Anderson (no appearances). Avalanche - David Aebischer (1-2-0, 4.04); Peter Budaj (1-0-0, 2.00).

SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-0-1.

LAST MEETING: March 23, 2004; Tied, 2-2. At Denver, Michael Leighton made five of his 41 saves in overtime and Arnason scored Chicago's second goal of the third period with 1:40 left.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blackhawks - 0-1-0 on the road; Avalanche - 1-1-0 at home.


Associated Press
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