Antti Niemi to Start Tuesday: Controversy Back On?

According to Joel Quenneville after practice on Monday, Antti Niemi will get another shot at starting consecutive games when the Blackhawks host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

This, of course, opens the door for more chatter about the Blackhawks having a goalie controversy on their hands. Cristobal Huet was in net for all three losses in the Hawks’ season-long streak that ended on Saturday in St. Louis, when Niemi returned from the flu to keep 34 of 35 shots out of the net. In the game, Niemi was spectacular throughout a physical game.

The last time the Blackhawks appeared to be close to making a shift at the top of the depth chart, Niemi made consecutive starts in Calgary and Vancouver. He was solid in Calgary on Jan. 21, allowing one goal on 20 shots to a struggling Flames team. In the subsequent start, in which he could have possibly taken the primary netminder position away from Huet, he was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in the first period against the Canucks.

Niemi wasn’t schedule to start again until Feb. 3 against St. Louis, but he missed the game because of the flu.

Since the beginning of the calendar year, Huet has allowed 2.75 goals per game and has allowed at least four goals in four of his 12 appearances; his .879 save percentage is miserable. Niemi, on the other hand, has a .913 save percentage even with the bad period in Vancouver being included; he has allowed just 14 goals in seven games, including the early exit against the Canucks. Niemi has not allowed more than three goals in a game yet in 2010.

Niemi played well in relief of Huet in Dallas on Dec. 29, saving 13 of 14 shots in 37 minutes in a 5-4 Hawks loss.

Consider the following stats: Saturday was only the ninth time in 58 games the Hawks were outshot by an opponent. Niemi has started six of those and improved to to 5-1 with his win against the Blues.

With trade rumors swirling around the Blackhawks as we close in on the Olympic roster freeze, how Niemi plays on Tuesday could determine the team’s trade strategy moving forward.

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