CHICAGO |Why wasn’t Nikolai Khabibulin in goal Sunday night on the tail end of the Blackhawks’ back to-back schedule Sunday, against the NHL bottom-feeding Edmonton Oilers?
“Definitely (starting Khabibulin) had some consideration,” coach Joel Quenneville said before the Hawks’ 5-4 victory. But he never completely, directly answered the question.
Starter Corey Crawford had to work hard a second straight night in dueling Oilers counterpart Devan Dubnyk. The Oilers answered everything the 12-2-4 Hawks threw at them until Marcus Kruger scored on a backhand past Dubnyk with just more than eight minutes to go.
Duncan Keith then provided two-goal insurance via a power-play tally. But even that was needed for the eventual game-winner as Jordan Eberle dented Crawford via a short-handed goal with less than 90 seconds left.
“Coming in (late) from travel last night from Dallas, it was good to find a way to win and have a couple of days in between games,” Keith said.
Which would have made a Khabibulin start appropriate, given a 4-13-2 Oilers squad that “gets excited playing our team,” said Quenneville, and frankly is a pain in the neck for Crawford.
“Maybe they just match up well against us,” Crawford said. “There were a couple of tough bounces on the goals, but you got to give them credit, too. They created some opportunities.”
Crawford said fatigue from back-to-back games should not have been a factor.
“There’s no excuses,” he said. “It was a tough game. That’s the kind of game that’s dangerous when the away team kind of hangs around.”
Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell scored for the Hawks, but each time the Oilers matched them against Crawford until Kruger’s and Keith’s late flurry.
Whether the 40-year-old Khabibulin, near rusty from sitting four straight games, would have done better is questionable.
There was another reason Quenneville might have chosen Khabibulin other than familiarity with the Oilers, with whom he had played the last four seasons after leaving the Hawks as a free agent in 2009.
Crawford came in 2-5 lifetime against Edmonton with a 3.08 goals against average and an .876 saves percentage. Khabibulin’s comparable numbers were 13-11-3, 2.65 and .906.
The Oilers have shredded Crawford and other Hawks goalies at times the past two seasons. They hammered the Hawks 8-4 in Edmonton in 2011-12, winning three of four from Chicago. On March 10, Edmonton won 6-5 at the United Center.