Cristobal Huet: The Fall and Rise of the Chicago Blackhawks Netminder

Tab BamfordSenior Writer INovember 12, 2009

It seems like yesterday that many Blackhawks fans, including yours truly, were calling for the Hawks to make a permanent change at the top of their goalie depth chart.

Cristobal Huet went through a terrible stretch in the middle of October, and many of the issues that lost him the starting goalie job to Nikolai Khabibulin last season became glaring holes teams were taking advantage of regularly this year.

Huet did not play very well in the Hawks' loss in Detroit, and then he was infamously pulled early in the first period of the Calgary game in which the Hawks climbed out of a 5-0 first-period deficit to win in overtime, 6-5.

When the Calgary game felt like the bottom for Huet, the Dallas game five days later was perhaps his low point as a professional.

After Antti Niemi started winning the fans’ favor and played well enough for wins in the Calgary and Edmonton games, Huet allowed four goals, at least two of which were embarrassing, to the Stars in a tough home loss.

The fans were booing, and the rumor mill was swirling with questions about the Hawks' willingness to continue giving the $5 million Frenchman chances, especially when he disappointed out of the gates for a team that was supposed to contend for the conference championship.

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Names like Jaroslav Halak, Carey Price, and Jean-Sebastian Giguere floated around the Blackhawks all over the Web, and it was generally at the expense of Huet.

Then, on Oct. 21, the Blackhawks collectively came out flat. They took the banged-up Vancouver Canucks for granted, lost a game, and lost both Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews to concussions.

It was on that night, after suffering a 3-2 loss, that something clicked for Huet.

Perhaps it was the lost leadership of Seabrook and Toews forcing Huet to step up his game, or maybe it was the reality that he was on such thin ice, but Huet became every bit the goalie for which the Hawks paid a king’s ransom last summer.

Since that Vancouver game, Huet started seven of eight games and stopped 166 of 177 shots (a .937 clip). He allowed more than two goals in a game only once in that stretch and lowered his goals-against average to 2.21 for the season.

Once a goalie nobody wanted to see in the United Center, Huet just a couple weeks later ranks sixth in GAA in the entire NHL. And he can be held personally responsible for the Hawks staying in a couple games when the offense didn’t show up for 40 minutes.

The two home games, to begin this week-long four-game home-stand, have been great tests of Huet and the defense in front of him. And both have responded with exceptional performances.

Monday, the Los Angeles Kings came to town among the top five scoring offenses in the league, averaging over 3.30 goals per game. They were also averaging nearly 30 shots on goal per night.

But the Blackhawks and Huet dominated the Kings.

Huet stopped 17 of only 18 shots he faced in the game, and the offense responded to Toews’ return from injury, to blow out the first place Kings by a 4-1 score at the United Center.

Even though there weren’t a lot of shots, there were tough chances from the Kings and Anze Kopitar, the league’s leading scorer, that Huet shut down well.

Wednesday, the Colorado Avalanche played the Hawks for the third time this year, and all three have been tight contests.

The first two saw 17 shooters from each team give their best in the shootout before the two games were settled, with the two teams splitting the games.

Whenever a competitor faces another athlete performing at a high level, it’s interesting to see how he steps up his game.

For Colorado, Craig Anderson has been among the best goalies in all of hockey this season and was nothing short of spectacular on Wednesday night. Anderson allowed only two goals in regulation and the overtime period, despite facing 39 shots.

Huet needed to answer. And he did.

Huet faced 24 shots through only two periods, more shots than the league-leading Hawks allow on average for an entire game (22.6). But to Huet’s credit, despite a number of hot rushes at the Hawks net and a number of opportunities in traffic for a shot to understandably slip past him, he didn’t fold.

Just two slid past him in the first two periods, and he shut out the Avalanche in the third and overtime. He was also superb in the shootout for a third time against Colorado, allowing only one of the three shooters to score.

Huet is now being cheered, not jeered, at the United Center. He has been as good over the last couple weeks as he was bad in the early part of the season, and he has gained the favor of his coaches, and the Blackhawks fans, back.