The Chicago Blackhawks headed into the Olympic break as one of the NHL’s best teams, but questions remained about who would emerge as the team’s top goaltender.
Provided Chicago doesn’t acquire any help before Wednesday’s trade deadline, a home game against the woeful Edmonton Oilers might help Antti Niemi(notes) or Cristobal Huet(notes) get back on track as the Blackhawks try to sweep a season series from the Oilers for the first time since 1994-95.
Chicago (41-16-5) entered the Vancouver Games riding a four-game win streak, and with a 16-point cushion over Nashville in its drive to win a division title for the first time in 17 years. The Blackhawks returned from the break in underwhelming fashion Tuesday night, falling 5-3 at the New York Islanders.
Making his fifth straight start, Niemi was pulled after giving up back-to-back goals in a 25-second span early in the second period. Huet entered for the first time since Feb. 5, then allowed another two goals before the intermission.
Huet, who signed a four-year contract worth $22.5 million before the 2008-09 season, has been linked in trade rumors with Toronto and Florida. The 34-year-old veteran is 24-12-4 with a 2.31 goals-against average, but has been plagued by the same inconsistency that caused Chicago to turn to Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) in 2008-09.
This season, Huet has been outperformed by the 26-year-old Niemi, who is 17-4-1 with a 2.26 GAA.
Whoever starts the opener of a four-game homestand, the Blackhawks should have a good opportunity to bounce back against an Oilers team that’s lost 26 of 30 since Dec. 14. Edmonton (19-37-6) has also dropped 12 of 13 on the road, including Tuesday night’s 4-3 defeat in Nashville.
“We’ve seen those a lot this year. We’re not handling the front of the net,” coach Pat Quinn said. “We don’t get those kinds of goals at the other end. We’re too busy with the drop passes and the lateral plays, all that pretty stuff that doesn’t end up in the net.”
Edmonton has been outscored 115-57 in its last 30 games overall, and 51-17 in its last 13 away from home. Even their trades are going wrong these days. After they shipped defenseman Denis Grebeshkov(notes) to the Predators for a second-round pick Monday, Grebeshkov had a goal and an assist in beating his former club.
Niemi won his only career start against the Oilers at home Oct. 14, and Huet has been victorious in four of five lifetime matchups while posting a 1.81 GAA.
The Blackhawks, who are 6-0-3 at the United Center against Edmonton since the start of 2005-06, narrowly missed a four-game sweep of last season’s series with a 5-4 shootout loss at home March 20.