The Blackhawks aren’t ready to give up on Nikolai Khabibulin.
That was the story out of Chicago on Thursday, as head coach Joel Quenneville said the club would stick with the veteran netminder as its backup, rather than call up Finnish standout Antti Raanta from AHL Rockford.
Khabibulin, 39, said he appreciates the show of support, but also knows his play has to improve.
“It’s nice for the guys to stick up for me and everything, but it’s pretty simple,” Khabibulin said, as per ESPN Chicago. “I have to do better.”
Several Chicago players defended Khabibulin in the wake of two bad performances — allowing six goals on 25 shots in a 6-5 OT loss to Tampa Bay last week, then getting hooked after allowing four goals on 22 shots in an eventual 6-5 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.
Khabibulin was at a loss to explain what happened.
“Whatever reason after a couple of goals, it just kind of snowballs,” he explained. “I think I got to relax a bit and just go play.”
Relaxation might be difficult, though, considering who’s behind Khabibulin in the pecking order.
Raanta, 24, signed with Chicago in June after lighting up the Finnish league. He backstopped Assat to the ’13 SM-liiga championship (capturing the Jari Kurri Trophy, Finland’s equivalent to the Conn Smythe), and that came after he posted a 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage during the regular season, winning the league’s top goaltender award and MVP.
In August, goalie coach Jaakko Rosendahl raved about Raanta’s presence and mental approach, and Raanta’s looked good for Rockford this season, posting a 5-1-0 record with a .926 save percentage and 2.40 GAA.