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updated: 10/31/2013 7:31 PM

Blackhawks' Khabibulin knows he has to be better

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  • Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin isn't happy with how his stint as Corey Crawford's backup has begun.

      Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin isn't happy with how his stint as Corey Crawford's backup has begun.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Nikolai Khabibulin wanted to make a better first impression.

But three games into his second stint with the Blackhawks, the 40-year-old goalie is a hot topic for all the wrong reasons.

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Khabibulin is coming off two poor starts, the second of which saw him pulled from Tuesday's 6-5 win over Ottawa just past the halfway point trailing 4-2. Only Jonathan Toews' heroics, where he rallied the team with a natural hat trick, prevented Khabibulin from losing.

Counting a 6-5 overtime loss at Tampa Bay last week, Khabibulin's numbers so far are frighteningly bad: 4.74 goals-against average, .818 save percentage, 12 goals allowed on 66 shots.

"It's still early in the year and two games don't make a season, but I wanted to play better, to be honest," Khabibulin said. "I wanted to have better results in the first games that I played, but what happened, happened and I have to put it aside and try to be better next game.

"I definitely didn't play the way I want to and the games didn't go the way I wanted them to, but I have to somehow put it aside and try to figure out a way to get better results."

Khabibulin was on the ice for practice 25 minutes early on Thursday to work with goalie coach Steve Weeks. It's in practice where Khabibulin knows he has to rediscover his game.

"To have confidence you have to play well, and these last couple games that I was in, I didn't play that well," Khabibulin said. "I have to build the confidence from lots of practices, treat it like a game, I guess, stop some shots and try to get better results.

"You've got to look at what happened in the games and work on flaws that are in the game. Try to clean things up, try to freshen your mind and go back and play.

"I think rhythm is a big part of it. I can say I want to go out there and find my rhythm, but it's not about me. It's got to be what's best for the team. The coach cannot just put me in and say go find your rhythm. We still have to win games."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has a tough decision to make this weekend with games in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon and back home against Calgary on Sunday: whether to give Khabibulin another start or play Corey Crawford back-to-back.

Quenneville did make it clear the team wasn't looking to Rockford for Antti Raanta, that the preference was to get Khabibulin going here.

"We just want to get him confident and get him back to playing the way he can," Quenneville said. "We'll get to see him practice and he'll show us when he's ready. It's a process getting him where he needs to be.

"Right now we're fine with getting him going again and him giving us all confidence as well. I would say right now we're going with Khabibulin and keep him playing."

Quenneville said the technical things that Khabibulin might be doing wrong are up to the goalie and Weeks to figure out.

"There are a couple minor things that I think I can get better at," Khabibulin said. "I actually felt good in practices and games, but after a couple goals it started to snowball. I think I have to relax a bit and just go play.

"As a goalie, we always try to have a perfect game and if you get scored on four, five, six times a game, I'm not happy. It doesn't matter what happens in front of me."

Khabibulin appreciated what Toews did the other night, both scoring the 3 goals to bail him out then saying after you couldn't blame the goalie for what happened.

"It's nice of the guys to stick up for me and everything, but it's pretty simple: I have to be better," he said.

"It was pretty remarkable, actually," Khabibulin said of Toews' on-ice play after it was 4-2 for the Senators. "That's what the best captains do. He basically put the team on his back. Everybody chipped in of course, but he really was a leader and not because he scored 3 goals -- just the way he played with his energy and two-way play. It was actually pretty fun to be a part of."

• Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.

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