Injury could spell more work for Crawford

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
11:29
PM CT
By Eric Single
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The sight of backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin struggling to get up from a prone position in front of his own net with 4:37 to go in the first period on Saturday night ensured the Chicago Blackhawks would leave Nashville with more long-term concerns weighing on their minds than an isolated blowout loss in mid-November.

Coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks' 7-2 loss to the Predators that Khabibulin would be re-examined Sunday, but the 18-year veteran "could be a bit" in returning from a lower-body injury sustained when he flashed his left pad out in response to a slapshot sent wide of the net. The team will likely call up a replacement for Khabibulin from the ranks of its AHL affiliate in Rockford, where Antti Raanta and Kent Simpson have been splitting time in net, to back up Corey Crawford going forward.

"I won't worry about it until tomorrow," Quenneville said after the game. "We'll talk about it here what we're going to do."

No matter who joins the team in Chicago for Sunday's game against the San Jose Sharks, the injury to Khabibulin puts added strain on Crawford, who was thrust into action for the 10th straight game and has now appeared in 18 of the team's 20 games this season. Crawford endured an offensive barrage from the slumping Predators, who had lost their last four games by a combined score of 17-2 heading into Saturday night's game, stopping only 17 of the 22 shots sent his way.

In his last three outings, Crawford has allowed a total of 13 goals, but he had no time for the suggestion that his recent numbers could be attributed to the heavy workload he has had to shoulder during the first two months of the 2013-14 season.

"I feel good," Crawford said. "There's no fatigue, so I just go out there and play. That's about it."

Coupled with the loss of right wing Marian Hossa, who was scratched because of a lower-body injury just before gametime and replaced in the starting lineup by new acquisition Kris Versteeg, Khabibulin's injury opened the floodgates for the Predators, who pounced on multiple Chicago miscues to pad their lead.

"It's tough losing those guys," Crawford said. "It was a rough game for us, but even when we scored that one in the third and they came back and scored right away on that shift, that pretty much said it all for that night."

Crawford played nearly 43 minutes of Saturday's game and will be expected to shoulder much of the load on an upcoming trip of seven games in 12 days beginning Tuesday. Despite Crawford's late entrances into a pair of shootouts in the past three weeks, Quenneville pointed to the Blackhawks' recent schedule as justification for his starting netminder's recent streak of six consecutive starting nods.

"Three games, a lot of time in between games there," Quenneville said. "The weekend back-to-back games and three days off in between, it's been OK, but we'll see."

Crawford made a few sharp saves immediately after coming into the game, but the Predators' onslaught set the tone for a long night. The Blackhawks expect a more resolute defensive effort if they want to limit the stress on Crawford over a challenging conclusion to the team's November schedule.

"We were very generous in gifting tonight on the goals, to a different level," Quenneville said. "I haven't seen that in a long time. It was a free night for them offensively. We were very gracious."

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