Nikolai Khabibulin will formally reintroduce himself to Blackhawks fans Friday night when he gets the start against the Islanders at the United Center.
It will be Khabibulin’s first game with the Hawks since Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference finals against Detroit, when he started but couldn’t finish because of an injury.
He re-signed with the Hawks as a free agent last summer for one year at $2 million after spending four seasons in Edmonton.
Because of the Hawks’ light early-season schedule, Khabibulin hasn’t played in a game this year since Sept. 28 against Washington in the exhibition finale.
“I don’t think it’s the ideal scenario,” Khabibulin said of the near two-week layoff. “You want to kind of get in and feel some pucks and everything, but it is what it is. At the same time, we’ve had a lot of practice time so it gives me a chance to work on things.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville was looking for a spot to start Khabibulin, and the back-to-back games this weekend provide the opportunity. The Hawks host Buffalo on Saturday.
“We’re happy to get him playing,” Quenneville said. “He’s going to be a very important part of our team. He gives us experience and it gives him a chance to play as well.”
Khabibulin, 40, isn’t used to being a backup goalie.
“Any athlete wants to play games, and I’m no exception,” Khabibulin said. “I want to be out there and contribute.”
While Marcus Kruger was centering the third line at practice Thursday between Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, Joel Quenneville would not commit to that look against the Islanders.
“We tried that for a few shifts (Wednesday at St. Louis), putting Krugs up there with those guys,” Quenneville said. “It’s just an option. We wanted to see how it looked in practice.
“That line hasn’t played bad, but whether we’re looking for production, what’s our best fit? What’s our best option? We’re giving everybody a chance and a turn to see exactly how it’s going to work out.”
So will Kruger be in the middle on Friday?
“I don’t know about that spot, but he could play on that line,” Quenneville said.
If Kruger does play center it would push Shaw to the wing.
“I’ve always been comfortable playing the wing,” Shaw said. “Doesn’t matter where I’m playing, I’m always going to give it my best.”
Rookie Joakim Nordstrom centered the fourth line at practice with Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig on the wings.
Going into the Hawks’ first set of back-to-back games, Marian Hossa was expected to play in both games this weekend as of Thursday. ... Look for Michal Rozsival to be back in the lineup on defense Friday. ... Patrick Sharp is ready to miss a game if he gets a call from his wife, who is ready to give birth to the couple’s second child.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.