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Blackhawks, Malcolm Subban struggle in season-opening loss to Lightning

Malcolm Subban got the first crack at the Hawks’ starting-goalie role, and in a nearly impossible matchup, he didn’t exactly run with it.

Malcolm Subban, like the rest of the Blackhawks, struggled in the season opener Wednesday at Tampa Bay.
AP Photos

After nine days of neck-and-neck competition, the Blackhawks gave Malcolm Subban the first crack at the starting-goaltender gig Wednesday.

Subban didn’t exactly run with it, but he didn’t get much help, either.

In a predictable 5-1 loss to the defending champion Lightning in the season opener, Subban surrendered five goals on 33 shots.

For every great save — like his remarkable desperation robbery against Alex Killorn in the third period — the relative “veteran” of the goalie corps misplayed another situation and gave up an easy goal. His rebound control, supposedly an emphasis for him and Collin Delia in the offseason, and puck awareness were noticeably subpar.

“In the first period, there were a couple of rebounds that can’t go out there, and their goals were generated off rebounds,” Subban said. “Maybe if I kept those and made some stops, then they don’t develop that opportunity. Overall, I made some nice saves, but I’ve got to look to build on that game.”

Of course, none of his teammates performed much better. Much like the second playoff series of the summer against the Golden Knights, the Hawks received an up-close look at what a Cup contender looks like and how far removed they are from that level.

Outside of the fourth line of David Kampf centering Matthew Highmore and Ryan Carpenter — which forechecked hard and produced chances even as the score got more lopsided — the Hawks’ forwards produced few looks against the Lightning’s stacked defense, and the Hawks’ reassembled defense gave up plenty to Tampa Bay’s top-heavy offense.

None of that was particularly surprising, though. The Hawks could lose all eight divisional matchups against the Lightning, and it wouldn’t shock anyone.

Of greater importance is identifying the goaltender of the future and giving him as many tests — and as much experience — as possible during this throwaway year.

“Everyone needs to be better,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I need to be better. We’re not happy with the result, and [Subban] shouldn’t be, either. But at the same time, he made some big saves, and he’s working hard at improving, as we all are. It’s up to us to be better overall.”

It would be shocking if Colliton didn’t pivot to Delia on Friday.

Taxi squad announced

The Hawks’ initial taxi squad consists of forwards Philipp Kurashev and Brandon Hagel, defensemen Lucas Carlsson, Nicolas Beaudin and Wyatt Kalynuk and goalie Kevin Lankinen.

For salary-cap purposes, the Hawks’ active roster included the bare minimum 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. But given that all six of the taxi-squad players qualify as prospects, the Hawks will look to integrate them into the lineup at various points.

The composition of the taxi squad could change markedly when the AHL season begins Feb. 5. The Hawks might shift their prospects to Rockford to maximize their playing time.

Mitchell relishes debut

Defenseman Ian Mitchell played 16:59 in his first career NHL game.

“I woke up at 5 [a.m.] and haven’t been able to sleep since then,” Mitchell said after the morning skate, grinning broadly. “My mind was definitely racing . . . but honestly [I’m] just more excited than nervous. I’ve prepared for this moment for a long time.”

An enormous entourage consisting of his parents, brother, girlfriend, girlfriend’s family, friends, aunts, uncles and grandparents watched on TV from their respective homes in Alberta, he said.