Chicago Blackhawks: Battle of the Goaltenders

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Casual fans of the Chicago Blackhawks who tuned into this past season were probably not expecting what they saw. But before delving into the situation with the Chicago Blackhawks goalies, some context is necessary to fully understand their present-day conundrum. During the 2019-20 season, the Blackhawks arguably had one of the best goalie tandems in the league. They had freshly acquired the William Jennings winner, Robin Lehner, from Long Island where he had just posted one of his personal best seasons. To pair with him was two-time Stanley Cup champion and Chicago legend Corey Crawford.

Despite his ageing career and concussion complications, Crawford went out with a bang during his final season as a Hawk. During his final playoff round with Chicago, he posted a remarkable .920 save percentage against a strong offensive Vegas team, who led the league in shots-for during that regular season. It’s a sharp turnaround from where the team’s situation stands today.

NHL free agent frenzy

Battle of the Chicago Blackhawks Goalies

Adapting to the Fresh Faces

Fast-forwarding to the start of the shortened 2021 season, the Blackhawks’ roster had been completely gutted. Almost every big analyst had written the Hawks’ season off before it had even started. This team was universally projected to place at not only the bottom of the Central Division but also the league. Many factors were playing into these predictions, but the state of their goaltenders was definitely at the forefront. They had lost Lehner at the 2020 Trade Deadline and Crawford during the offseason. Many fans were questioning who could legitimately take hold of the reins and become the new starter. 

At the beginning of the 2021 season, head coach Jeremy Colliton told the media that “it’s going to be a relatively open competition.” Thus, the starting position was open to anyone. There were two main goaltenders in question, but at the head was Malcolm Subban. Despite not having extensive NHL experience, he was qualified as the most experienced goaltender in the Hawks’ system. Well enough, he received the go-ahead for Game 1 of the regular season. 

Long story short: it did not go well. Although not entirely his fault, as there were no preseason games for the Hawks’ mismatched roster to build chemistry, Subban did allow five goals. For Games 2 and 3, the Hawks went with a different approach by putting in Collin Delia. Hawks fans might remember him getting a stint in the big league back in 2018, but since then, he had only played in the AHL. By the time game 2 had rolled around, he had not made an NHL start in 693 days. In both games, Delia also let in five goals. For Game 4, the Hawks went with an even bolder choice: Kevin Lankinen

New Sheriff in Town

Kevin Lankinen Makes His Debut

Known for his impressive World Championship run in 2019, that would win Finland gold, Lankinen had still not cracked the National League. He posted respectable numbers in the AHL, but nobody was ready for the run he was about to go on. In his first game, he too, let in five goals. However, this was different. Not only did he stand his ground enough to get the game to overtime, but he also looked the most comfortable out of the three options.

From that point onward, Lankinen was given the next 15 of 20 starts, making him the clear number one guy. Even better, his record over that span was 9-3-3. With only three regulation losses in fifteen games, he started gaining a lot of attention from around the league. After his dominant February run, he was widely being considered for the Calder Trophy granted to the rookie of the year.

In the span of a couple of weeks, Lankinen went from being the third-string option to the starting goaltender; an impressive feat. Although his numbers did decrease as the months went on, his season was still one for the books. He was one of the sole reasons the Hawks were able to stay in a playoff spot for so long. Lankinen finished his monstrous rookie season with the most time on ice, most shots faced, most saves, and the second-most wins among all rookie goaltenders.

When comparing him around the entire league, his numbers continue to impress. Lankinen faced the 3rd most shots and made the 3rd most saves while having played significantly fewer games than the two goaltenders ahead of him. Also, his save percentage (.908) ranked 5th best among goalies who played at least 37 games. However, one could say his most notable stat is the two assists he collected on various Chicago goals. These numbers are even more remarkable when one takes into account the Hawks’ defence in front of him. The Blackhawks finished tied for 1st in the league with the most shots against allowed per game (33.7). Taking all of these unfavourable conditions into account, Lankinen still managed to perform as one of the top goaltenders in the league this season. 

Looking Forward

Expansion Draft, Entry Draft, and the Upcoming Season

The next few months will be pivotal in determining who will become the Hawks’ starter during this upcoming season. Although Lankinen has made an impressive case, anything is possible. As the Seattle expansion draft concluded last night, each team around the league was only able to protect one goaltender. Some analysts had discussed the possibility of Chicago’s Malcolm Subban joining the Seattle roster, but the Kraken ultimately picked up forward John Quenneville instead.

This following weekend, the 2021 NHL Entry draft will unfold. Two goaltenders are expected to go in the first round: Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa. The last time multiple goalies were drafted in round one was back in 2012, making this a rare sight. Because Chicago has the 11th overall pick, things could get interesting. Chicago’s Vice President of Amateur Scouting, Mark Kelley, told reporters this morning that the depth among this draft class’ goalies is “really, really strong.” It will be exciting to see how the Chicago Blackhawks goalies pan out in the future.

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