The season’s final leg was supposed to be Kevin Lankinen’s time to shine. Marc-André Fleury was out of the picture, Lankinen was healthy after missing a chunk of time in the middle of the season, and with restricted free agency looming, the Blackhawks starting goaltender job was Lankinen’s to lose. Unfortunately, things haven’t quite gone as planned for Lankinen, and Sunday night’s disastrous performance was another setback for the 26-year-old netminder.
Lankinen allowed five goals on just 20 shots in 40 minutes of work before Derek King had seen enough and chose to go with Collin Delia for the third period on Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars. Lankinen had trouble picking up the puck all night, and rebounds continue to be a problem for him (he’s springy, the pucks bounce off of him, and he doesn’t do a good job of corralling these rebounds).
Lankinen ranks 46th in the NHL in puck freezes this season, according to Money Puck’s data. By comparison, his former partner in the Blackhawks net, Marc-André Fleury, ranks 17th.
Goaltending is the most challenging aspect of the game to quantify. In fact, it’s almost taboo to try. Non-goaltending gurus will tell you that they’re not in a position to speak to the intricacies of the job. Derek King said that himself on Sunday night.
“Honestly, I’m not a goalie coach; I try not to get involved with the goalies,” King said. All I know is I didn’t feel … we needed something to change, that’s why I changed him. A little shaky, that’s all. I don’t sit there and say I think his slide post to post is off, or his glove’s got to be up a foot. I don’t know that part of it. I know how to score against them. I just don’t know all their little movements and stuff. So that’s Jimmy’s [Waite] job.”
Even King, who scored 600-plus points in the NHL as a player and has spent time behind the bench in the AHL and NHL, doesn’t dabble in the voodo that is goalie speak. But, we’ve got the eye test, and the eye test tells me that Kevin Lankinen is having a terrible season.
We’ve also got some basic counting stats for goaltenders (i.e., saves, save percentage, goals-against average, etc.). And those paint a bleak picture for Lankinen this season – even if Derek King chooses to chalk his performance up to a rough night.
“He was just off, that’s all. He was just off,” King said. “He was having an off night, just like some of our players have had off nights. It’s just magnified with the goalie because he’s the last resource defending. And then if you’re D are off, then everybody hones in on your D because they’re the next layer, and then after the layer, the forwards don’t get picked on till late. But honestly, I really do think we competed much better.”
Derek King said Collin Delia would start in net for the Blackhawks on Tuesday night when they play the Los Angeles Kings. Still, King says that it’s just Delia’s turn in the rotation and that his message to Lankinen this morning at practice was essentially to throw it away; everyone has a bad day. Still, King said that he can see the frustration in Lankinen, who has now allowed 27 goals in seven starts since the NHL trade deadline passed on March 21, good for a .882 save percentage.
“You can see him frustrated. For us to win, we need to play three periods of some pretty good, perfect hockey,” King said. “There’s going to be hiccups. A goalie can’t afford to have hiccups; that’s the problem. On good teams, a goalie has a couple of hiccups or lets in a softie, teams respond, and they’ll get that goal back for him. We don’t have that right now. That’s the frustrating part for Lanks. He’s had games where he played well — we felt he played well — but we didn’t have that extra goal or two goals to climb back in it when he makes a big save. It is what it is. This is how it’s going to be the rest of these 10 games. We’re just going to have to deal with it. Hopefully, he doesn’t lose his mind.”
I still believe that Lankinen has a solid chance of being back in Chicago next season for an extended look as the primary goaltender as the team is still in the non-competitive stage of the rebuilding process, so this all isn’t to say that Lankinen’s bumpy ride this year will spell doom for the impending UFA, but it’s not encouraging in the least.
With Collin Delia between the pipes on Tuesday night, Lankinen has at most nine more starts to give Kyle Davidson and the Blackhawks a reason to believe that he can be a part of the future in Chicago. Let’s hope that Lankinen can avoid any more “off nights.”