CHICAGO -- Fingers could have been pointed in a variety of directions for why Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has struggled in recent starts.
Some blame could be placed on the Blackhawks’ inconsistent penalty kill or on the opponents’ offensive abilities. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews recently put it on himself and his teammates. Toews said they needed to be better at the beginning of games to support Khabibulin.
Khabibulin had his chance Thursday to direct the fault, and he took it all on himself.
“You get scored on four, five, six times a game, I’m not happy,” Khabibulin said after practice on Thursday. “It doesn’t matter what happens in front of me. I still try to find things I can do better. It’s nice for guys to stick up for me for everything, but it’s pretty simple, I have to do better.
“I definitely didn’t play the way I want to. The games didn’t go the way I want. I just have to somehow put it aside and try to figure out a way to get better results.”
Khabibulin has allowed 10 goals in his last two starts. He allowed six goals on 25 shots in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 14. He gave up four goals on 22 shots against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and was pulled from the game during the second period.
Khabibulin didn’t speak after Tuesday’s game and the Blackhawks had Wednesday off, so Thursday marked his time before the media since his latest start. He said he saw some fixable mistakes while watching film, but he didn’t have an explanation for all of the goals.
“There are a couple minor things I think I can get better at,” he said. “In practices and in games, I actually feel pretty decent. Whatever reason, after a couple goals, it just kind of snowballs. I think I got to relax a bit and just go out play.”
Khabibulin was optimistic he could turn his game around after just three starts this season.
“It’s still early in the year,” Khabibulin said. “Two games don’t make a season. I wanted to play better, to be honest. I wanted to have better results in the first games I played. But what happened happened. I have to put it aside and, just like I said, try to get better the next game.”
Some Blackhawks fans have already had enough of Khabibulin and have been demanding on Twitter that the Blackhawks turn to prospect Antti Raanta, who is playing for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL. Raanta starred in Finland’s SM-liiga last season and was signed by the Blackhawks in June.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday his plan wasn’t to call up Raanta.
“I would say right now we want to get Khabi going and keep him playing,” Quenneville said.
Quenneville wasn’t sure when he would start Khabibulin and give Corey Crawford time off again. The Blackhawks have back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday and then have two days off.
“We’ll see,” Quenneville said. “Every game is going to be different. We have some games in between each, so we’ll evaluate it. We just want to get him confidence and get him back to the way he can play. I know that today everybody was supportive, and he looked like he was battling, too. That was a good sign.”
Khabibulin thought confidence was a tricky quality for him to possess at this point.
“To have confidence, you have to play well,” Khabibulin said. “These last couple games I was in, I didn’t play that well. I have to build the confidence somehow through practices, treat it like a game, I guess. Go out and stop some shots, try to get better results.
“I think rhythm is a big part of it. I can say I want to go back out there to find rhythm. It’s not about me. It’s got to be what’s best for the team. The coach cannot just put me in, hey, go find your rhythm. We still have to win games. Whatever it is, if I don’t get to play much, just try to get better in practice.”