Grading Lankinen’s Debut Performance With the Blackhawks
By Shaun Filippelli
After an 0-3 start to their 2020-21 season, in which the Chicago Blackhawks allowed five goals against per game, it was only a matter of time until we witnessed Kevin Lankinen‘s first NHL start. And it came as the Blackhawks looked to close out their trip to Florida better than it began.
It would be difficult for this injury-plagued roster to look much worse than they had throughout their opening series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and first of two versus the Florida Panthers. With next to nothing to lose, Chicago might as well grant opportunities to prospects ready to set the stage for their careers.
Besides, it’s not as though this version of their line-up is riddled with star power at the moment. Yes, Patrick Kane is still doing what he does, Alex DeBrincat has enjoyed a fresh start, Dominik Kubalik looks hungry for more, and Duncan Keith is still proving he has life left in this game. But what about their current outlook in net?
Starting the season with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia didn’t necessarily instill much confidence in the fanbase. Although they aren’t to blame for the team’s first three losses, neither did much to win the starter’s role. So, might as well look to the taxi squad.
What Brought Him To The Blackhawks
Lankinen, now 25 years old, spent the past couple of seasons gaining experience with the Indy Fuel and Rockford IceHogs before getting the call to join the pros on a more permanent basis through 2020-21. He also has a resume full of international experience playing for Finland, including a 43-save performance to capture gold at the World Championship in 2019.
The chance to prove himself came early this season, after Chicago’s leading men for the role both failed to capture any success through the team’s first three games. This was Lankinen’s chance to not only illustrate his worthiness of being on their extended roster, but also make it easier for those deciding on the lineup to look his way more often moving forward.
First Period: C
Lankinen looked like he belonged early in the game. He came across poised and comfortable in the starter’s crease. Of course, that didn’t improve the lineup in front of him, and there was only so much one could expect in terms of how much better the Blackhawks could look as a whole with more confidence in their back end.
He let in the first goal of his professional career with just over 6:00 minutes left to play in the period, after being beaten by a crafty breakaway backhand. A few minutes later, a scramble in front landed on an opponent’s stick and ended up in the back of his net. Neither being his fault. Chicago headed into the second down 2-1.
Second Period: C+
With a full period under his belt and the Blackhawks only down by one, it would be pivotal to see what Lankinen could do to keep his squad in this one. The middle frame hasn’t been kind to the Blackhawks in the short sample size through the start of this season.
It seemed we’d see a similar trend after Florida went up 3-1 only a few minutes into the second. That goal, though, was a bit more on Lankinen than anyone else. After what looked like a solid breakaway save, he failed to control the loose puck and it was quickly tapped in for good measure. If he had kept that one out, the 3-3 tie by the end of this period could have been a score in Chicago’s favour.
Third Period: B
Just over six minutes into the third, the Blackhawks found their first lead of the 2019-20 season and were up 4-3. Unfortunately, a mere minute later, the Panthers made good on a power play attempt and tied this one back up again.
You can’t fault the netminder for missing a screened shot from the point, with a mess to navigate in front of him. Lankinen remained solid the rest of the way, helping the Blackhawks maintain the even score and secure their first point of the campaign. This one was headed to overtime, locked up at 4-4.
If entering your first game in the pros wasn’t already pressure-filled, how about taking your team to overtime in hopes that you reign supreme amidst the do-or-die scenario? It was the extra frame that gave fans the greatest sense of optimism for what Lankinen can do.
Despite the Blackhawks not finding a way to close this one out, Lankinen overcame a couple of point-blank situations to keep them in this one longer than they would have been otherwise. Most notably, he foiled an early three-on-one with a timely cross-crease maneuver that could have ended it right there.
Unfortunately, a few minutes later, the game was done. A quick one-timer, which any proven veteran would have had trouble navigating, blew past him to end the game. Lankinen didn’t get the win, but he certainly turned some heads for all the right reasons through overtime. He ended the night with a 4.79 goals against average and .821 save percentage.
Despite numbers not worthy of writing home about, helping the Blackhawks earn their first point through four games should be considered a win. Plus, with a greater sample size, we should expect to see more of what he showcased when it really mattered. Overall, Lankinen earned a B in my books through this one, with hopes that he’ll be on the honour roll sooner than later.