He was perhaps the lone positive on an otherwise miserable night.
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin did all he could Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, but had little help in front of him through the first two periods of the contest.
Khabibulin faced 20 shots in the first, then faced another 11 in the second before getting the mercy pull in the third, with his team down 4-0.
“When you face 20 shots in the first period, that’s a pretty good night’s work,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “The problem is that we had another 40 minutes to go.
“We had to show him the mercy rule and got him out of there and gave him a chance to take a deep breath and allow him to regroup for the next game.”
It’s scary to think how bad things might have been had Khabibulin not been on his game early.
He stood up Jonathan Toews minutes in, making a pair of saves on the Blackhawks captain, who appeared surprised to have so much time and space in front of the Oilers net.
Toews eventually did get on the board as he whacked a rebound past Khabibulin after the goaltender made a save on Brent Seabrook, who had a clear lane on goal.
Toews collected his second, banking in a centring pass off the skate of Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert just before the end of the period.
“He (Khabibulin) played great,” said Oilers winger Ales Hemsky. “You give up 25 shots a period, there’s probably nothing you can do.”
In the second Toews added his hat trick, eventually capitalizing on a turnover, while Patrick Sharp added a fourth on a short-handed break away.
Despite his performance, the four goals didn’t do much for his goals-against average, which is hovering near the 4.00 mark on the season.
“He’s playing well. He’s giving us a chance, at least when we start well, to go do something about it,” Renney said. “The bottom line is that we need to be much, much better in front of him. The best way to protect your goaltender is to adapt, forecheck, keep the puck in the other end, minimize the chances against, never mind just the shots against. And we haven’t been able to do that on a regular basis.
“We have to take responsibility for whatever those numbers (goals against average) might reflect, 23 people have to look at that.”