After practice on Tuesday, coach Joel Quenneville announced that Antti Niemi will start in goal for the Blackhawks Wednesday against Vancouver at the United Center.
Quenneville has been clear in his public statements that he is going to use a two-goalie rotation this season because of the tight schedule. The Olympics has put NHL teams in tough situations throughout the 2009 portion of the calendar with back-to-back games, and the Hawks planned on utilizing both Niemi and projected number one Cristobal Huet early.
But the selection of Niemi for Wednesday is telling.
The Hawks last played on Saturday night, giving the team plenty of time off between games. They also don’t have another game this week until Saturday, giving the team their lightest week of October. This would be the time, against a conference opponent, for Quenneville to give his true “number one” goalie consistent time between the pipes.
In light of Huet’s miserable performance against Dallas on Saturday, this decision might signal a change in the heirarchy with the Blackhawks’ goaltenders.
And it should.
Huet has been one of the biggest question marks in the entire NHL so far this year, and his disappointing play has cost the Blackhawks a golden opportunity to jump all over a division that has injuries and issues across the board. Indeed, if not for Niemi, the Hawks could be a middle-of-the-road team despite their great offense.
In his time with the media after Saturday night’s loss, Huet noticeably lacked the confidence that a $5 million goalie should have. If his confidence is down, it mirrors the sentiments of the fans at the United Center. Huet has been the object of the fans’ ire since Opening Night, and his performances on the ice have not won any favor back from those committed to the Indian.
Vancouver comes to Chicago banged up, missing Daniel Sedin and Sami Salo, and with a vulnerable Roberto Luongo. The Blackhawks need to win this game against a potential playoff opponent, and Quenneville’s decision to start Niemi is not only the right choice, but perhaps a sign of things to come in Chicago.