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Feathered friends

Goalies Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have the Blackhawks sitting with the second best record in the NHL this season.(Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Goalies Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi have the Blackhawks sitting with the second best record in the NHL this season.(Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi: That’s the answer to the oft-heard pre-season question, “Who the heck is going to stop pucks in Chicago?”

When Nikolai Khabibulin left the Hawks as a free agent, many wondered whether the team would get the kind of goaltending required to be a top-flight NHL outfit. Twenty-two games into the season, Chicago’s team goals-against average of 2.14 is tops in the league.

Huet is 11-4-1 with a 2.16 GAA, while Niemi has two shutouts in five starts, a 1.85 GAA and .921 save percentage. Now, all this comes with the understanding that the Hawks are a good enough team to be judged by what they do in the spring, not November, and it will be up to both goalies to prove they can thrive when things get a little tighter under the collar.

Chicago gets a good litmus test when it puts a seven-game winning streak on the line this Wednesday in San Jose in a showdown of the THN Power Rankings’ top two clubs.

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
L10
THE SCOOP
1
San Jose Sharks
2
16-5-4
6-1-3
Heatley is outscoring Cheechoo and Michalek 18-12 and leads the NHL in goals
2
Chicago Blackhawks
5
15-5-2
8-1-1
Chicago completes a sweep of western Canada to run its winning streak to seven games
3
Washington Capitals
3
13-5-5
5-3-2
Blueline prospect John Carlson getting a look with the big club thanks to all the injuries
4
New Jersey Devils
1
14-6-1
7-2-1
Not sure there will be a better player on Team USA than Zach Parise
5
Pittsburgh Penguins
8
15-8-0
4-6-0
Don't discount the notion of versatile Jordan Staal squeezing his way onto Team Canada's Olympic roster
6
Philadelphia Flyers
9
12-7-1
7-3-0
In what has to be a candidate for least likely fighting combatants of the year, Danny Briere and Marc-Edouard Vlasic squared off last Saturday in San Jose
7
Calgary Flames
6
13-6-2
6-3-1
Began a stretch of eight-of-nine away from home with a victory over the Kings
8
Detroit Red Wings
7
11-6-4
7-2-1
Another body joins a crowded infirmary as Niklas Kronwall is out four-to-eight weeks after Georges Laraque's knee-on-knee hit
9
Los Angeles Kings
13
13-9-2
5-5-0
Failed to gain a point in their first two games without Ryan Smyth, who's out with an upper-body issue
10
Columbus Blue Jackets
18
12-6-3
6-1-3
After Saturday's overtime loss, Jackets have lost 12 straight in Nashville. That's not the way to get the jump on a divisional foe
11
Buffalo Sabres
4
12-6-2
4-5-1
Suddenly the Bruins and Sens are breathing down Buffalo's neck for the Northeast lead
12
Boston Bruins
17
10-8-4
4-3-3
Having Marc Savard and Milan Lucic back means we can all finally see what's really up in Boston
13
Nashville Predators
14
12-8-1
8-2-0
Nashville has gone from looking like a write-off to racking up 10 wins in its past 13 contests
14
Ottawa Senators
16
11-6-3
5-4-1
Shean Donovan is gone at least six-to-eight weeks after a knee-on-knee collision with Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke
15
Colorado Avalanche
12
13-7-3
3-6-1
Giving up 21 goals over your past four games makes it real tough to win
16
Dallas Stars
11
10-6-6
4-4-2
Some good signs, but still searching for consistency
17
Phoenix Coyotes
21
13-9-1
4-5-1
Good news on the injury front; blueliner Ed Jovanovski could return this week
18
Tampa Bay Lightning
19
9-5-7
5-2-3
Antero Niittymaki runs his record to 15-0 versus Atlanta with a recent win over the Thrashers
19
Atlanta Thrashers
10
10-7-3
5-3-2
Life is pretty good for everyone in Atlanta except 22-year-old Bryan Little, who has just eight points in 18 games
20
Vancouver Canucks
15
12-11-0
5-5-0
With Daniel Sedin back on the scene, the Canucks need to start making some hay
21
Florida Panthers
24
10-9-2
7-2-1
Went out on the road and racked up three wins in a row over Detroit, Buffalo and the Rangers
22
New York Rangers
20
11-10-1
3-7-0
Scary to think where this team would be without Marian Gaborik
23
Montreal Canadiens
23
11-11-1
5-4-1
Memo to GM Bob Gainey: sign pending UFA Tomas Plekanec right now
24
New York Islanders
22
8-8-7
4-4-2
Biron and Roloson both have respectable save percentages above .910
25
St. Louis Blues
27
8-8-4
3-4-3
Long way to go, but Blues are starting to turn a corner as guys like Berglund and Kariya snap long goalless streaks
26
Anaheim Ducks
26
7-11-3
3-5-2
Ryan Getzlaf's brother, Chris, will play for the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup next Sunday; not sure Ryan will get to play a game nearly that important this year if things don't turn around soon in Anaheim
27
Minnesota Wild
25
8-12-2
5-3-2
How about a minus-14 rating in 19 games for two-goal man Martin Havlat? Yikes.
28
Carolina Hurricanes
30
5-12-5
3-5-2
Not one road win in 10 tries this season
29
Toronto Maple Leafs
28
4-11-6
3-4-3
Vesa Toskala trying to prove he can still be a starter
30
Edmonton Oilers
29
9-11-3
2-6-2
Coach Pat Quinn held a meeting with team's vets to try and figure out how it's all gone so wrong

The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 each Monday based on a combination of last week’s play and a squad’s overall outlook.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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