Video: Blackhawks and former Lightning G Nikolai Khabibulin before Thursday's game at Tampa Bay
For just the second time since he left the Lightning after the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season, Nikolai Khabibulin will play at the Tampa Bay Times Forum when the Blackhawks face Tampa Bay tonight.
In three previous games against the Lightning, Khabibulin is 2-0-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. About playing at the Times Forum, Khabibulin said it always is special. "This is where it all happened," he said. "I like the fans here. I had such a great experience here. Every time coming back, whether I play or not, is pretty special."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Ben Bishop gets the start in net. Bishop was pulled during Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Bruins, but coach Jon Cooper said Bishop's track record this season plus that he beat the Blackhawks in a shootout in Chicago, led to the decision stick with Bishop. "Goalies are going to get pulled," Cooper said. "Did he deserve to be pulled? I don't know. We didn't give him much help. But he's been very consistent for us this year, and we don't get two points out of Chicago without him." ... Defensemen Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio are scratched for the eighth time in nine games. ... When the season began, the Lightning power play soared and the penalty kill struggled. Now, the power play is struggling on a 1-for-14 skid and the penalty kill has been successful on 11 straight shorthanded situations. "It's the ebb and flow of special teams," Cooper said, adding that at least he does not feel the power play, despite not producing goals, has hampered the team's momentum at games as it has been producing chances. Still, he said, "We need oour power play to be better to give is a better chance to win games." ... What has been hampering the power play and contributing to the fact that the defense has just one goal this season (and that came on Sami Salo's empty-net goal against the Wild)? Tampa Bay just doesn't shoot the puck enough. Entering Thursday, the team was 29th in the 30-team league with an average 25.9 shots. San Jose was first averaging 38.8. "What we're having trouble with as a staff is that our team is passing up Grade A scoring chances or Grade A chances to get pucks to the net for a B or C chance," Cooper said. "Your percentage is going way down." Cooper wants more shots, especially from the defense. "You've just got to keep hammering it into their heads," Cooper said. "The word selfish gets thrown around and it's always in a negative conotation. But sometimes you have to be selfish, and our guys can be accused of being too unselfish. They'd just rather tic-tac-toe it and set up their buddy the whole time. Sometimes you've got to make the selfish act and shoot yourself. That's the one time where the word is not a bad thing."