Rozner: Goalie Lankinen giving Blackhawks a chance

  • Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen blocks a shot against the Nashville Predators during a January game. The Hawks rookies, especially Kevin Lankinen, have made this Blackhawks season worth watching.

    Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen blocks a shot against the Nashville Predators during a January game. The Hawks rookies, especially Kevin Lankinen, have made this Blackhawks season worth watching. Associated Press

  • Since Kevin Lankinen took the net Jan. 19, the Hawks have only lost twice in regulation, both by a goal, both to Columbus and one was after that collapse Thursday, when Lankinen was slightly off, part of the reason the Hawks squandered a great opportunity to keep a winning streak alive.

    Since Kevin Lankinen took the net Jan. 19, the Hawks have only lost twice in regulation, both by a goal, both to Columbus and one was after that collapse Thursday, when Lankinen was slightly off, part of the reason the Hawks squandered a great opportunity to keep a winning streak alive. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/14/2021 6:04 PM

It was a bit odd watching the Blackhawks squander a pair of 2-goal leads against the Blue Jackets Thursday night.

Odd because they just haven't had many 2-goal leads during the first quarter of this 2021 season.

 

Also strange because of the narrative that followed that game, and followed them into Saturday night's rematch.

It was all about how an inexperienced team with young kids just couldn't handle the prosperity, how they would have to learn from it and how it's to be expected.

Rookies. Turnovers. Learning experience. Blah, blah, blah.

The truth, however, is that some NHL veterans on the squad were just as responsible for the Hawks letting it get away on Thursday.

It goes back to something head coach Jeremy Colliton has been preaching since he got here, the absolute necessity to think defensively instead of cheat offensively in crucial situations.

That would include having a 2-goal lead in the third period, when getting pucks deep and keeping it simple is a rather reasonable formula.

Sure, some young guys made some big mistakes, especially the young defensemen. And, yes, that's to be expected.

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Some of these young defensemen are going to be really good players in a year or two, but until then there's going to be stretches where they're terrible. That's the life of a young defenseman in the NHL.

Ask Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both of whom looked awful when they got here.

But when veteran forwards are thinking offense instead of protecting their own net, the puck is -- from time to time -- going to wind up in your own net.

What's been most interesting about the Hawks' last few weeks -- which included a 6-1-4 run before the Columbus defeat -- is that it looks like a team starting to buy into what the coach has been insisting upon since he got here.

A team with zero margin for error needs to be relentless, disciplined, unselfish and smart, thinking defense first and offense when possible.

That doesn't mean the defense doesn't get involved. In fact, this team will have a hard time scoring if the defense doesn't jump in, but using your brain and supporting the puck is a big part of that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's interesting that with so many veterans absent from a year ago, and so many young players in the mix, the team is listening to its coach.

Players don't just want to learn. They want to win and listening to instruction is entirely necessary, especially when voices that might not like the instruction are no longer here or simply not around.

Of course, hard work and buying in are crucial, but let's not mistake as well the main reason why the Hawks were terrible the first three games of the season and considerably better since.

The biggest difference has been Kevin Lankinen, the 25-year-old rookie goaltender and 2020 AHL all-star. He has been superb since gaining the net after the Hawks received horrific goaltending the first few games of the season

Since Lankinen took the net Jan. 19, the Hawks have only lost twice in regulation, both by a goal, both to Columbus and one was after that collapse Thursday, when Lankinen was slightly off, part of the reason the Hawks squandered a great opportunity to keep a winning streak alive.

But Lankinen is allowed an off night, especially after carrying the Hawks for the better part of three weeks. He has been outstanding, turning an awful Hawks beginning into an interesting season.

Rebuilding isn't fun for anyone, even the young kids trying to find their way. They want to win and nothing is better for a team's confidence than terrific goaltending.

The game Thursday night was Lankinen's 10th start in 23 days, so mental fatigue could have been a part of it, and he was back on track Saturday night with another good performance, improving to 6-2-3 with an overtime victory.

While some youngsters made the usual number of errors Saturday, it was again some veterans making selfish plays after the Hawks tied it late, nearly costing the Hawks a point -- and a chance at a pair.

But that narrative isn't nearly as easy and much more subtle, so good luck resisting the urge to put all things bad on the kids.

There's been a lot of good from a lot of young guys, but Lankinen has been very good and he is without question the reason the Hawks took a very ugly start and turned this season into one worth watching.

You can play fast, you can play hard, you can play smart, you can manage the puck and you can buy in with a coach trying to make his voice heard, but if you don't get goaltending there's no reason to even show up at the rink.

Kevin Lankinen -- so far -- has given the Hawks a reason to play.

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