When the regular season opened up, former head coach Denis Savard tabbed Cristobal Huet as his starting goaltender. In the opener against the New York Rangers, Huet was less than stellar. In his home debut against Nashville, he was much better. Unfortunately, he was on the losing side of the shootout so it only added more fuel to the anti-Huet fire.
After Joel Quenneville took over, he employed a strict goalie rotation not seen anywhere above the Squirt level. Huet and Khabibulin played almost every other game unless there was a reason not to (i.e. injury).
Huet responded with a lot of up-and-down play. For stretches, he would be marvelous giving the Hawks every opportunity to win games by only giving up a goal or two. Then in some games, all the wheels would come off and at the end of the game, there would be a huge crooked number on the board.
His best stretch of play came from December 7th to December 28th when he only gave up 4 goals in a 5 game span and the Hawks went 5-0, including their only win of the season against the Minnesota Wild.
When Nikolai Khabibulin went down at the beginning of February with a lower body injury, Huet was given the reign of the pipes. It started off well enough with Huet winning five of the first seven starts. Then, when he coughed up 5 goals and a two goal lead in Nashville on February 24th, it was the beginning of the end for him. He followed that game up with a clunker against Pittsburgh where he was yanked after two periods.
By this time, all Khabibulin needed to do was get healthy and the starting job would be his. After the overtime debacle on March 18th against Columbus, Huet’s fate was sealed and he only received two more starts the rest of the season.
Another factor to consider in his season was the scoring support he received. In the 17 games where he gave up 3 or more goals, the Hawks were 2-13-2. For the record, he gave up 6 goals twice, 5 once, 4 nine times, and 3 goals in five games. So if you toss out the three games where he imploded, you’re left with 12 games where the Hawks were unable to overcome at least 3 goals. The odds will probably even out this year to make that record a little less lopsided.
In the playoffs, Huet was the forgotten man until the third period of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Khabibulin re-aggravated his lower body injury while coughing up a 3-0 lead and the Hawks needed Huet to salvage their season.
He did, temporarily, by keeping Detroit off the board the rest of the game as Patrick Sharp and the Hawks won it in overtime.
In Game 4, he laid an egg like the rest of the team. In Game 5, he put on a performance that was as close to heroic as I’ll ever say about an athlete in a sporting event.
Cristobal Huet’s 2009-2010 will be a success if…
He can handle the heavy workload. At 34 years old and as a 6-year NHL veteran, Huet has played in more than 50 games just once in his career. With the tallest midget contest currently taking place to be his back-up, he’s going to exceed that number again this year. Can he play that many games without breaking down like he seemed to last season? That’s what he has to prove. If he can, then the Hawks will be sitting pretty.
He only occassionally is bad. The Huet stink-bomb performance is acceptable from time to time. It’s just going to happen. We all have to accept that fact. What can’t happen is his stretch of play in March that inspired confidence from nobody. In those 8 games, he gave up 4 or more goals six times. If he can surround his occassional poor performance with good outings, then he’ll quell many fears in this city.
Cristobal Huet’s 2009-2010 will be a disappointment if…
He handles the puck too many times. On a list of things Cristobal Huet can do, handling the puck is probably on the bottom in between to ‘Stopping a bullet with his teeth’ and ‘Leaping from tall buildings in a single bound’. Every time there’s a puck dumped in and Huet has to make a pass to a teammate, a little piece of me dies. He cannot handle the puck at all. The less he does it, the better off we’ll all be.
He is worthless to other teams by next June. At this point, Huet is teetering on the edge of being bad money. Statistically speaking, he’s still at the top of the food chain when it comes to goaltenders. Unfortunately, his salary and his age complicate that situation. If Huet can put together a solid campaign, the Hawks will be in a unique spot. They’ll have a goalie that not only will be attractive to other teams, but they’ll also have a goalie they can count on. If he’s lousy, then the Hawks will have no choice but to be stuck with a mediocre goalie for the next two years at $5.625 million.
There may not be a more polarizing player on the Blackhawks than ‘The Man From France’. It’s a time honored tradition in Chicago for fans to base the majority of their opinions off their first impressions. For Huet, he made the mistake of laying an egg to open the season and then losing in a shootout in the home opener. After that, plenty of people had already made up their mind that he was a lousy goalie.
What they missed was a solid stretch of play and a guy who finished the season with a 91% save percentage.
Assuming that Huet can handle the workload of a number one goaltender and receives some better goal support from his team, he should rebound to have himself a nice season.