Midway through last month, a report surfaced out of Chicago that the Blackhawks were concerned about poor play but former Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabby has struggled mightily in Chicago and posted some very un-Khabibulin like numbers: in 11 games he has amassed a 3.83 GAA and a .847 save percentage. On average he is facing around 25 shots a game.
One can point to the team that surrounds Khabibulin in Chicago and how it is a problem, but I find that sort of a weak argument. Khabibulin had a mediocre supporting cast and mediocre defense in Tampa - at best - in his first full season with the Lightning in 2001-02 and what did Khabibulin do? He stood on his head...
70 Games played, a .920 save percentage, a 2.36 Goals Against Average. He was facing 27 shots a night on average and keeping the Lightning close... The record shows that the team could not make do with what Nikolai provided but isn't even what we are supposed to be focusing on here. What the focus should be on is the fact Khabibulin is lost at current -- his focus is off and that is effecting his game play. Maybe because he is having so many fantasies forfilled at once (huge payday with Chicago, playing under his boyhood hero Vladislav Tretiak, having the lump sum payday contract, having a Stanley Cup to his name... Whatever the case, Khabibulin is out of it and Chicago is reeling because of it.
That's not to say things are rosie in Tampa with Khabby gone. Though the fans are behind him John Grahame has been less than stellar between the pipes. I pointed out Khabbies low GAA and Save percentage in 2001-2002, you can also see Kevin Weekes played well in limited appearences with the team - a 2.90 GAA and .915 Save Percentage in 19 games... Grahame currently can boast a 2.5 GAA but a low Save percentage of .905. That's not going to cut it. Acrobatics be damned, Grahame has been out of position more than once and been fortunate to make saves instead of simply crumbling under duress and giving away games. There was also the Bolts first meeting with Ottawa thsi season that put into quesiton just how good Grahame is despite what stats may say.... His stick throwing incident may go down as the benchmark of the Lightnign season - just out of it and desperately trying to make something through any means possible.
Sean Burke hasn't exactly wowed either. A low GAA? Yes sir. A .906 Save percentage to compare with Grahame... He's shwon an affinity to not knowing how to defend breakaways -- sitting in goal doesn't exactly And at 38 years old, you have to wonder if the Lightning should be looking to the past in the pipes with a backup instead of the future?
This is definately not making a case for Brian Eklund in goal as Eklund has had his own trouble this season with Springfield of the AHL. 5 games played and a 4.06 GAA and .890 Save percentage... And it's tough to make a case for Gerard Coleman who has put the Falcons on a winning streak since Eklund's departure... Coleman has a 3.10 GAA and .894 save percentage in four games this season.
Maybe as a fan I have just been spoiled with great goaltending in the past from both Khabibulin and former Netminder Darren Puppa? The lingering concern, though, that I have had is the organization doesn't have and continues to lack a true netminder prospect all of their own. Almost every starting goaltender this team has had - sans Derek Wilkinson, Zac Bierk and a small number of others - have come up through other organizations.
Whatever the case, goaltending is arguably one huge question mark right now and how Jay Feaster deals with it is another question.