On Thursday night, the Blackhawks got blown out in Columbus by a Blue Jackets team that sits at the bottom of the Central Division. On paper, the Jackets are terrible. Against the Blackhawks this year, not so much.
For a team that’s been offensively challenged all year, Columbus has given the Blackhawks fits.
On Dec. 1, the Blackhawks needed 11 rounds of a shootout to finally defeat the Jackets 4-3. In that contest, Cristobal Huet allowed three goals on 23 shots (.870 sv%).
On Jan. 14, Huet shut out the Jackets on 24 shots. Two days later, on Jan. 16, the Blackhawks needed two late goals from Jonathan Toews to hold off the Jackets 6-5. In that game, Huet allowed five goals on 26 shots (.808 sv%).
On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, the Hawks again needed a shootout to beat the struggling Jackets. This time, in a 5-4 victory, Antti Niemi got the start and allowed four goals on 28 shots (.857 sv%).
Then came Thursday, when Niemi allowed one goal on five shots (.800 sv%) and Huet allowed seven goals on 27 shots (.741 sv%) in an awful 8-3 loss.
The Jackets are 1-2-2 against the Blackhawks with 20 goals scored (four goals per game). Against the rest of the NHL, they’re 29-30-10 with 178 goals scored (2.58 goals per game). Most of the damage has been done at the expense of Huet, who has allowed 15 goals on 100 shots (.850 sv%). If you remove Huet’s shutout from those numbers, Huet’s 15 goals allowed were scored on just 76 shots (.802 sv%). Even including a shutout doesn’t sugercoat bad numbers from Huet against the Jackets this year.
Coming off the big win against Phoenix, and looking back at this season’s history against the Blue Jackets, Thursday night was clearly a dangerous trap game. Huet made it an epic failure with his worst, and perhaps his last, start as a member of the Blackhawks.
On Sunday night, the Blackhawks should have an opportunity to redeem themselves. Not only will the Hawks be at home, where they’re 27-7-3 this year, and Niemi will be in goal (though his .850 sv% is the same as Huet’s this year against Columbus), but the Jackets are hosting the Islanders on Saturday night. The Islanders have been playing extremely physical hockey lately, averaging nearly five penalties (37) per game in their last eight (a stretch in which they’re 4-2-2).
The questions regarding who will be in goal for Game One of the playoffs should have been answered on Thursday night. It’s now time for the Blackhawks to play like a team worth of a playoff spot.