Shutty, Phil The Thrill, Playoffs?, And Other Blackhawks Bullets

Hello. The Chicago Blackhawks are tied for the Central Division lead based on points today. It is February 18, 2021. This is all a reality.

It feels so weird to say that the Blackhawks are actually, yes, good. No one expected this Chicago squad to be competitive like this in 2021. The writing was on the wall for this season that it would be a no good, miserable year. Yet here we are, talking about playoff positioning, Calder Trophy candidates, and dare I say Hart Trophy candidates? What year IS this?

•   Last night, the Blackhawks were able to dispatch of the Detroit Red Wings with a 2-0 win. Leading the way were two of the three Calder Trophy candidates on this Blackhawks squad as Kevin Lankinen notched his first career shutout and Philipp Kurashev scored one of the slickest goals of the year.

•   Lankinen holds a 7-2-3 record this season in 12 starts for the Blackhawks. Here’s where he ranks among 32 goalies this season who have played at least 400 minutes in net:
Shots Against: 403 (5th)
Save Percentage: .931 (t-4th)
GAA: 2.29 (6th)
Goals Saved Above Average: 9.92 (1st)
High-Danger Shots Against: 106 (t-6th)
High-Danger Save Percentage: .840 (t-9th)
Average Shot Distance: 33.24 feet (29th)

•   The 25-year-old rookie also leads all first year goaltenders, who have played at least 200 minutes, in every one of those categories besides High-Danger Save Percentage, which he is second.

•   Not only is Lankinen at the top of the list in goalie categories that pertain to stopping the puck, but he’s also at the top of the goalie lists for puck distribution. He tallied an assist on the Kurashev goal last night, his second assist of the season. Lankinen is now tied with Anton Khudobin for the league lead in points for goalies with two helpers.

•   Lankinen’s two points is more than 50 NHL players who have skated in at least 10 games this season. Some notable names on that 50-player list include Tyson Jost, Zach Bogosian, Jeff Skinner (yes, four-time 30+ goal scorer Jeff Skinner), Alex Goligoski, Ryan Reaves, Jake Virtanen, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and 2020 first-overall draft pick Alexis Lafrenière.

•   Not to be out-done on the rookie mind-blowing performance scale last night, Phil “The Thrill” Kurashev provided a highlight goal that will follow him the rest of his career.

•   Seriously. Kurashev now has five goals and nine points this season. Both of those numbers rank second among rookies this season. Kurashev trails teammate Pius Suter in both categories. With Lankinen, Suter, and Kurashev this season, it’s not far-fetched to believe that the Blackhawks will have at least one Calder Trophy finalist this year.

•   Kurashev’s breakout season is surprising a lot of people from the outside. He played half an AHL season last year in his first professional season. He’s not normally supposed to be transitioning to the NHL game so easily. But having watched him in Rockford last season, it was evident he was going to be a good player at the top level. It’s been special watching his development early on this season.

•   Last night’s win put the Blackhawks at 9-5-4 on the season after starting the year 0-3-1. They have secured at least one point in the standings in 12 of their last 14 games played and have not lost by more than one goal over that 14-game span. Also, for the first time since October 28, 2018, they are TRULY a .500 team. Joel Quenneville still had three more games with the Blackhawks back then.

•  It has not been an easy trek for the Blackhawks since then. Head coach Jeremy Colliton looked to be on the coaching hot-seat at times and the direction of the team was in question constantly. Now, after declaring a rebuild, are they already “back?”

•   Well, no. But this is the most “bought-in” I’ve seen the Blackhawks be under Colliton. We are witnessing the development and maturation of a lot of young, hungry players getting their first opportunities in the NHL and their effort and drive is rubbing off on the veterans all around. It’s creating a culture within the team that no matter the opponent, they have a chance to win.

•   I’m excited. I’m hopeful. I’m prepared to be hurt by this team. I’m all in.

•   In news away from the ice, but still located in the United Center, looks like an addition will be coming to the home of the Blackhawks and Bulls…

•   Speaking of the Bulls, both they and the Blackhawks got wins over Detroit teams last night with a 105-102 Bulls win over the Pistons to go with the Blackhawks’ shutout win.

•   Way to go BN Bulls, we did it!

•   Finally, something from last night that I don’t want to go unnoticed. Patrick Kane was highlighted wearing a special pair of skates last night.

•   You can learn more about the commemorative skates from Bauer Hockey in the link above. The skates honor Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player in honor of Black History Month. The skates will be worn by players around the league this week and will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to benefit Black Girl Hockey Club, a non-profit that works to make the hockey community more inclusive, focusing on uniting Black women in the community.

written by

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.

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