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Quenneville will continue to alternate Hawks' goalies
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Nikolai Khabibulin stops a shot from San Jose's Joe Thornton in the Blackhawks' big victory over the Sharks last weekend.

 

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Published: 2/5/2009 12:01 AM

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CALGARY, Alberta - Few teams in the NHL can match what the Blackhawks do offensively in terms of puck possession and spreading the ice.

But where it all starts for the Hawks having the confidence to take the puck and go is the knowledge that either Nikolai Khabibulin or Cristobal Huet are there should a breakdown occur.

While some might be wondering why Hawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn't start riding Khabibulin more, the alternating rotation continues to work fine as Huet showed with another strong performance in Tuesday's 3-1 victory at Edmonton.

Perhaps Quenneville will settle on one goalie as the playoffs get closer, but for now he's sticking with what is working, which means alternating the two veterans.

"We've been saying maybe it'll be sorted out and be clearer what we're doing, but here we are where we're at," Quenneville said.

It's also possible the goalie situation won't get sorted out until the playoffs, which is OK with Quenneville.

"Absolutely, especially when you don't have to make those decisions," he said. "It's a healthy situation and it's been great. You've got to commend both goalies, who I'm sure would want to play more."

It has gotten to the point where it's easy to take for granted the Hawks are going to get the kind of goaltending from either Khabibulin or Huet to win any game they play.

"You've got two of the top goalies in the league, so you can't complain, right?" center Dave Bolland said. "It's good for us. They're top goalies. It's unbelievable to have two of the top goalies in the league playing on one team."

Having goaltending as the obvious strength of the team is one of the reasons Hawks general manager Dale Tallon is considering standing pat as the March 4 trade deadline quickly approaches.

Tallon said last week he doesn't see the need to fix what's not broken, although there is little doubt the Hawks are seeking to acquire an experienced center for the stretch run and playoffs.

Three centers almost certain to be dealt in the next few weeks are the Islanders' Doug Weight, Toronto's Nik Antropov and the Blues' Keith Tkachuk, normally a winger who never looks out of place in the middle. Nashville's Radek Bonk, one of the best at faceoffs, also could be on the move.

Would Tallon even consider trading a goalie for a needed part elsewhere?

It will remain a possibility right up until deadline day with Khabibulin the likeliest to move since he is an unrestricted free agent while Huet still will have three years and $16.8 million left on his contract after this season.

It's doubtful another team would be willing to take on Huet's financial commitment.

Huet made 20 saves against the Oilers to run his record to 13-9-3 with a .917 save percentage. Khabibulin is 15-4-5 with a .925 save percentage, and he will get the start tonight against the Flames.

Huet made a huge stop on Shawn Horcoff on a breakaway late in the first period Tuesday with the Oilers already ahead 1-0. If Horcoff scores, the Hawks might not recover from a 2-goal hole.

Blackhawks vs. Calgary Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome, 8:30 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

At a glance: This is the final game of the season series, with the Hawks leading 3-0. They've outscored the Flames 14-5, getting goals from 10 different players. Calgary is 19-5-3 at home but coming off back-to-back losses at Dallas and Colorado. Nikolai Khabibulin starts in goal looking to pad his 21-5 career record against the Flames.

Next: Vancouver Canucks at GM Place, 9 p.m. Saturday.