Hawks goalie Lehner more than admirably filling in for Crawford
If Jeremy Colliton has road mapped out how the Blackhawks are going to use Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner in the foreseeable future, that map is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
Only Colliton and his staff likely know which direction they're going on a given night -- or perhaps in a given week.
"We have a bit of a plan," Colliton said last week. "But the reason I don't want to go out with it is the plan can change.
So far it's Lehner who is making life miserable for Hawks' opponents. Which is exactly why he started a second straight game, this one against the Philadelphia Flyers at the United Center on Thursday.
Before yielding 4 goals on 23 shots to Philly, Lehner was 1-0-2 with a .943 save percentage and 1.94 goals-against average. His record would be even better if he'd get more offensive support as the Hawks (2-4-2) have scored just 6 goals in his four starts.
Asked if his strong play is simply a continuation of last season -- when he posted 6 shutouts and a 2.13 goals against average for the Islanders -- Lehner said no.
It's actually a continuation of his last four campaigns.
"Feel the same," said Lehner, who played with Buffalo from 2015-18. "Every year you change a few things structurally, depending what team (you're on). I have to play different here than I had to play last year and than I had to play in Buffalo.
"We weren't a very good defensive team in Buffalo. … (That) prepared me for breakaways and 2-on-1s because I had a lot of them every game."
That being the case, some fans may pause here and wonder why Lehner allowed Vegas to convert 2 of 3 shootout attempts in a 2-1 loss Tuesday. And why his .549 save percentage in shootouts ranks almost dead last since 2013-14.
Lehner -- one of the most honest interviewees in a sport filled with them anyway -- has no problems admitting it's simply one of his weak spots.
"I'm terrible at shootouts. But I don't let in breakaways," he said. "People just don't understand how big of a difference it is. When a player doesn't get to slow down, I know exactly how to play it. When they get to slow down, I'm terrible.
"I love overtime, but shootout is a different sport for me. I've tried to do different things; sometimes you've just got to accept what you're not good at. I'll keep trying to see if I can get better at it."
As for Crawford, he hasn't necessarily been bad.
But his numbers (1-3-0, .891, 3.59) pale in comparison to his new teammate, and Thursday was the first time he'd sat in back-to-back games while healthy since the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.
So as Lehner continues to shine, it's fair to wonder if he might be making the coaching staff take a different fork in the road than they originally planned.
But if that fork leads to more victories, then it's one they'll gladly travel down.
"That's what we want. Competition," Colliton said. "And it's going to push both those guys to be better."
Said Lehner on Tuesday: "It's up to the coach. People are making a big deal out of it. It's very early in the season.
"Goalies have their ebbs and their flows. I think I'm a good goalie and I think Corey's a (heck of a) goalie, too. It's a good thing for this team and (we'll) see what happens going forward."