CHICAGO - It’s the kind of goaltending controversy every coach dreams of.
A question to which there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer.
Like asking the high school nerd who he’d rather take to the prom, Christina Aguilera or a pre-crazy Britney Spears.
Pat Quinn can either go with Jeff Deslauriers, the red hot hand who was unbelievable in his last start, stopping 40 of 41 shots in a 6-1 victory over Nashville, or he could go with the veteran, Nikolai Khabibulin, who was unbelievable in his last start, stopping 33 of 35 shots, and figures to be highly motivated in his Windy City homecoming.
A coin flip could settle this and leave virtually no room for second guessing, but Quinn figures he’ll just stick to the original script.
Deslauriers against Nashville, Khabibulin Wednesday against the Hawks.
“I had made up my mind ahead of time and announced it to the goaltenders,” said Quinn, who might have been tempted to put Deslauriers back in there if Khabibulin wasn’t so sharp against the Canadiens. “You always go in with a plan that’s subject to change... but his last game against Montreal was his best and we hope he continues to grow from there.
“We’re also very pleased with how Deslauriers played, that was such a misleading score last game. They were in an offensive frame of mind and Deslauriers was very good.”
So Khabibulin it is, but don’t look for any venom in this reunion. It’s not Dany Heatley going back to Ottawa or Rob Schremp coming back to Edmonton. Khabibulin enjoyed Chicago, left there on good terms and isn’t out to prove anything to anyone here.
This isn’t a guy who’s big on nostalgia, either. He didn’t even make the trip back to Winnipeg (the place where he began his NHL career in 1994) to play the Tampa Bay Lightning (the team he won a Stanley Cup with in 2004) for the Oilers pre-season visit.
Yes, he wants to beat Chicago badly, but no more badly than 28 other clubs.
“It would be awesome to win,” he said. “But at the same time they don’t give you extra points for beating your old team,” he shrugged. “We came here we want to win and that’s basically it. I always liked to come here, before I even played here it was a nice city to visit and it’s like that now.”
The Hawks aren’t always the nicest hosts, though, they have an army of fast players who can know how to score and it wouldn’t take much to turn this reunion sour in a hurry.
“This is going to be a very good test for myself and the whole team,’ said Khabibulin. “They have a good team now, very balanced and deep.”
Which begs the age old question in all goalie homecoming games: Advantage shooters or advantage keeper?
“I’d like to know that, too,” grinned Khabibuin. “As much as I know them, they know me, too.”
If this game is anything like Chicago’s last two home games, prepare for something wild. The Hawks went nine players deep in a shootout in their home opener and came back from 5-0 down to beat the Flames 6-5 on Monday.
“I’m anxious to see them,” said Quinn. “I’ve heard a lot about their team. Clearly they’re feeling pretty good about themselves. They have some talent and they’re playing a good, solid game.”