Huet helping Hawks

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

If a team is only as good as its goaltender, early on this season, it appeared as though the Chicago Blackhawks would just be average.

Despite all the talent up front and the strength on defence, goaltender Cristobal Huet was having difficulty stopping pucks.

5-GAME STREAK

Huet has since found his game, and is one of the reasons the Blackhawks went into last night's game in Edmonton atop the Central Division standings and on a five-game winning streak.

"Things have been going pretty well right now," Huet said before last night's game against the Oilers. "We've been playing pretty well as a team. We took care of our four-game homestand before coming out on the road, which was very important. Then we had a pretty good first game on the road against Calgary (7-1 win).

"Obviously every game we play on this road trip is going to be pretty tough and we just have to keep playing well. We're all feeling pretty good about ourselves now," said Huet.

"I really liked his response, he had a tough beginning for us," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.

"He really handed the situation well in getting the ball back. He's not just playing a lot of games now, but he's playing well.

"He's out challenging shooters at the top of his crease, looks in charge, is controlling rebounds, handling the puck and he now seems as he's more assertive in the net and really responded to a tough challenge."

Huet, 34, took over as the Blackhawks starter with the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin to the Oilers.

The native of St-Martin-D'Heres, France, had been relegated to a backup role last year during the Stanley Cup playoffs. This despite signing a lucrative four-year, $22.4-million contact the previous summer.

"He's a quiet guy, but he's a guy that has pride, wants to play and wants to have success," Quenneville said.

"He fought through a real challenging period there, but he's one of those guys that quietly goes about his business, is a real good pro and wants to get better. I commend him on how he handled it."

Originally a seventh-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2001, Huet has played in Montreal and Washington before landing in Chicago.

Pegged to take over the starting role from Khabibulin in Chicago, who had struggled the previous season, Huet was unable to displace the Russian as the starter, at best sharing the duties.

BURDEN

With Khabibulin gone, the burden fell on Huet. Since getting the hook in a couple of early encounters Huet has gone on to post an impressive 10-4-1 record with as 2.17 goals against average and .907 save percentage.

"We didn't doubt him for a second," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

"He's been great for us lately. He definitely reflects the way our team plays.

"There were some nights where we didn't play well as a team and didn't help him out, which reflects poorly on him. But it's a team effort even though he's battled through some early criticism. He'd definitely earned our respect."

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Huet has had trouble earning respect as a starter.

He was the Canadiens' No. 1 to start the 2005-2006 season, where they lost to Carolina in the first round. The following year an injury cut his season short as the Habs missed the playoffs all together.

Soon after Carey Price's arrival in Montreal, Huet was traded to the Capitals where he took over as the starter from Olaf Kolzig.

After losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers, Huet became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Blackhawks.

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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