Robin Lehner shows he still could be Blackhawks’ X-factor this season

With so much about the Hawks in need of immediate repair, giving Lehner the opportunity to run with the starting-goalie role and carry the team out of the NHL’s early-season cellar might be the easiest potential fix of all.

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Robin Lehner stopped 30 of 33 shots in his Blackhawks debut Saturday.

AP Photos

Fittingly, Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner turned left out of the tunnel Saturday.

The Hawks’ typical route from their locker room to the ice involves turning right when the tunnel reaches the bench because the door in the boards on that side is slightly closer. But Lehner, making his first start for the Hawks, turned left — probably because he didn’t know otherwise but also because that was the more direct route to the goal.

Lehner is mere weeks into his tenure with the Hawks, but it already has become clear that he’s not a traditional goalie, as the left turn exemplified.

He spoke with the media after the morning skate Saturday, something most goalies never do. He has mentioned several times he’s ‘‘not a huge routine guy,’’ an equally odd attribute for the position. Even his netminding style is unconventional, such as when he executed a double-pad stack to rob Jets star Mark Scheifele late in the second period Saturday.

In the end, Lehner’s eccentricity added up to a .909 save percentage (30 saves in 33 shots) in the Hawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Jets.

He was spectacular at times, stopping seven of the Jets’ eight high-danger shots, and largely carried the Hawks to overtime after their first-period push faded.

‘‘I felt good,’’ he said. ‘‘I felt like I saw the puck well. I thought [my] rebound control was good.

‘‘The third goal, it just dove on me. He missed his shot. It’s unfortunate. But I thought I made some good saves and felt comfortable.’’

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Crooked tie or not, Lehner has been a welcomed addition to this Hawks team.

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Entering the season, Lehner’s addition to the Hawks — providing not only injury insurance for Corey Crawford but also a true starter-quality presence in goal, even if he’s not a Vezina Trophy finalist again — was arguably the biggest reason for postseason optimism.

The playoffs seem a galaxy away after the Hawks’ sloppy 0-2-1 start, but there’s no reason Lehner still can’t be the X-factor that significantly alters the team’s fate, in spite of their aging core and loose defense. He certainly lived up to expectations Saturday.

‘‘[He] made some big saves for us,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘He’s a big presence back there. Covers a lot of the net. He was good.’’

The game Monday against the Oilers will be the first time this season the starting-goalie role is meaningful. Crawford’s history with the franchise made it inevitable he’d start the season opener and home opener, so it was logical Lehner would start the first game after those two.

But now the scripting is over. The Hawks’ goalie battle should a meritocracy from now on. (If it isn’t, Colliton will have some serious questions to answer.)

Crawford hasn’t been explicitly bad in his two starts, with his .877 save percentage more a product of poor play in front of him (along with a couple of regrettable goals). But Lehner’s outing Saturday was clearly better than either of Crawford’s games so far.

Lehner, whose bulky 6-4, 240-pound frame fills much of the net even while he’s stationary, has earned the right to start Monday, if the decision is truly performance-based.

With so much about the Hawks in need of immediate repair, giving Lehner the opportunity to run with the starting-goalie role and carry the team out of the NHL’s early-season cellar might be the easiest potential fix of all.

Even if he does turn left out of the tunnel.

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