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Hawks peppered; Havlat sidelined

Tribune staff reporter

In a week in which they will face three of the top teams in the NHL, plus another that is among the hottest in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks were without the services of leading scorer Martin Havlat for Friday night's 8-3 loss to the Nashville Predators.

It's unknown when he will return.Havlat, arriving at the United Center about 45 minutes before puck drop Friday, said his groin had been bothering him for the last couple of games and in Thursday's 2-0 loss in St. Louis he said it "popped."

He also suggested, without elaborating, his physical issues weren't limited to his groin.

With just one goal and three points in his last seven games, Havlat hasn't looked like the same player he was earlier in the season when he had seven goals in his first seven games.

After snapping a five-game goal drought Tuesday in St. Louis, Havlat said his skid was due to not having his legs after a bout with the flu, and coach Denis Savard attributed the drought to more defensive attention from opponents.

The Hawks' troubles extended to the ice, where Nashville scored 70 seconds to begin the rout. Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was lifted 1 minute 13 seconds into the second period after former Hawk Steve Sullivan scored to make it 4-1.

Khabibulin, who was lifted in the Hawks' last home game against Boston, gave up four goals on 12 shots. Nashville didn't let up against backup Brian Boucher, scoring four more in the second.

The Hawks dropped their second straight and third in their last four to fall two games below .500. The Phoenix Coyotes, winners of five straight, will be in town Sunday trailing the Hawks by just a point.

Groin injuries can be a confounding and extremely frustrating injury for a hockey player. There is no real way of knowing when the injury is completely healed until the player tries to play again and if it's not, it can easily be reinjured, forcing a longer layoff.

Havlat missed 19 games earlier in the season with a sprained ankle and his absence played a major role in the firing of coach Trent Yawney.

The Hawks lost their first seven games without Havlat and 12 of their next 15 before Savard replaced Yawney.

After scoring three goals in his first two games after the ankle injury, Havlat has just three in his last 12 games.

The Hawks were shut out Thursday for the first time since Oct. 30 as Havlat played just 16 minutes 37 seconds, his fewest minutes of the season. His minutes had steadily dropped in the last three games, going from 22:29 to 22:06, then 18:31 before Thursday.

Without Havlat in the lineup, the Hawks' offense has been anemic, averaging less than two goals per game in the 19 he missed earlier.

With the Hawks teeter-tottering the .500-mark and trying to gain traction in the Western Conference playoff chase, this week was going to be difficult even with Havlat at full strength.

After the Hawks face Phoenix on Sunday, the East-leading Buffalo Sabres come to town Wednesday followed by a trip to Detroit on Saturday.Khabibulin, who was lifted in the Hawks' last home game against Boston, gave up four goals on 12 shots. Nashville didn't let up against backup Brian Boucher, scoring four more in the second.

The Hawks dropped their second straight and third in their last four to fall two games below .500. The Phoenix Coyotes, winners of five straight, will be in town Sunday trailing the Hawks by just a point.

Groin injuries can be a confounding and extremely frustrating injury for a hockey player. There is no real way of knowing when the injury is completely healed until the player tries to play again and if it's not, it can easily be reinjured, forcing a longer layoff.

Havlat missed 19 games earlier in the season with a sprained ankle and his absence played a major role in the firing of coach Trent Yawney.

The Hawks lost their first seven games without Havlat and 12 of their next 15 before Savard replaced Yawney.

One-timers

Jonathan Toews, the Hawks' first-round draft choice and third overall pick in last summer's draft, had a goal to lead Canada to a 4-2 victory over Russia in the gold-medal game of the World Juniors tournament in Sweden. Toews finished the tournament with four goals and seven points in six games. Jack Skille, selected seventh overall in 2005, was on the bronze-medal winning U.S. team and finished with a goal and five assists. . . . Defenseman Lasse Kukkonen was scratched for the second straight game and Rene Bourque was out for a third straight game with a bruised ankle.

rfoltman@tribune.com

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