There is one excellent way to help a struggling goaltender find his rhythm: don’t let the opponent get the puck to the net.
On Thursday night in Nashville, the Blackhawks defense did a magnificent job of giving Cristobal Huet all the help he could ask for in another winning effort. The Predators managed only 13 shots as they lost 3-1 to the Blackhawks, who extended their winning streak to four and opened the season with their best start in 30 years.
The Predators, who have now scored just eight goals in seven games, only got two shots to Huet in the entire third period. Their passing was sloppy and the shots they did get to the net weren’t generally tough tests for Huet, who needed this victory as much for his confidence as the Hawks did in the standings.
Huet, who was booed out of the United Center on Monday night, made the stops he needed to against the weak Nashville offense, and the Blackhawks continued to shoot a lot and score well. However, while the totals were familiar, the scoring parties weren’t the usual suspects.
Dustin Byfuglien scored his fourth goal of the season to open the night, and was followed 28 seconds later by the first of the year from Tomas Kopecky. Duncan Keith added his second goal of the season in the third period as the Hawks pulled away for the 3-1 victory.
Brent Seabrook had two more assists, giving him six already this year and moving him into a tie atop of the Blackhawks scoring page with Brian Campbell. Seabrook and Campbell both assisted on Byfuglien’s goal, Colin Fraser was credited with an assist on Kopecky’s goal, and Seabrook and Jonathan Toews both aided Keith in the third.
This was an important start for Huet, though, after the momentum within the Hawks’ fan base has certainly moved into the corner of backup Antti Niemi. There have been rumors stretching from Niemi becoming the number one goalie as far as the Hawks potentially looking to deal Huet either during this season or next summer.
And picking on the anemic Predators’ offense might have been the perfect tonic for Huet’s ills.
During the television broadcast, Pat Foley mentioned that the coaching staff has been working with Huet to keep him on his skates longer when the puck approaches. Huet has a track record of getting too low in the net too soon, and becoming vulnerable to high shots. It appeared that Huet did a better job of staying more upright on Thursday evening.
This win gives the Blackhawks eight points in their last four games, and pushes the Hawks into first place in the Central Division. Chicago is now three points ahead of second place Columbus.