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Blackhawks’ goaltending resurgence the biggest factor in winning streak

The Hawks had the worst even-strength save percentage in the NHL under Jeremy Colliton. But under Derek King, they’ve had the best even-strength save percentage.

Marc-Andre Fleury has won consecutive starts for the Blackhawks.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There’s no denying the Blackhawks have acted like a different team — a more relaxed, cohesive and resilient team — since the coaching change from Jeremy Colliton to Derek King.

But on the ice, there’s one thing and one thing exactly that explains the Hawks’ equally dramatic flip in results: Goaltending.

Between Oct. 12 and Nov. 6 — while going 1-9-2 under Colliton — the Hawks’ even-strength save percentage was .865, the worst in the NHL.

Over the last week, while going 3-0-0 under King, the Hawks’ even-strength save percentage was .963, incredibly the best in the NHL.

“Any time your goalies are playing like they are now, they at least give you a chance to win,” King said Saturday. “That’s all we ask for. There’s going to be that odd goal that maybe they didn’t like . . . but at least our guys are confident enough that if we do get scored against, the goalie’s got it [under control]. We’ve just got to get right back and tilt the ice the other way.”

Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen’s season stats still don’t look pretty. Fleury is 3-7-0 with an .897 overall save percentage; Lankinen is 1-2-2 with an .891 overall save percentage.

In terms of goals saved above average — a holistic stat that measures performance versus theoretical average goaltending — Lankinen ranks 56th and Fleury 59th among 65 goalies leaguewide.

But they seem to have turned a corner. Lankinen saved 20 of 21 shots last Sunday against the Predators, including a massive late glove save on Matt Duchene to carry the Hawks to overtime.

Fleury then saved 42 of 44 shots in his revenge game Tuesday against the Predators and 22 of 23 in an easier matchup Friday against the Coyotes. The defending Vezina Trophy winner has now posted a save percentage above .950 in four of his last six starts.

That solid goaltending might be helping the Hawks relax just as much as King’s friendly coaching style is.

“When you’re protecting leads late in games or whatever the situation, the goaltending that we’ve gotten just makes you feel a lot more comfortable anywhere on the ice,” Jonathan Toews said. “[We’ve gotten] some big stops by ‘Flower’ late in games, and even three games ago, ‘Lanky’ was rock-solid. Overall, we’re much more relaxed as a team and our goaltenders are really holding down the fort back there for us.”

Lankinen has plenty of familiarity with King from their seasons together in Rockford, where King “really relied on me and trusted me the opportunity to get better,” Lankinen said Monday.

And Fleury on Tuesday credited the Hawks’ recent defensive improvement for helping him out.

“From my point of view, we’re giving up less breakaways, two-on-one and odd-man rushes,” Fleury said. “The forwards are coming back and pushing the puck, helping in the ‘D’-zone. Because of that, we’re giving up less quality chances. [That] definitely helps me relax.”

The Hawks’ structure has looked tighter under King, especially in his focus area of the neutral zone. And the defensemen have been smarter with their pinching, limiting some of the counterattacks the Hawks had been conceding constantly.

If excluding the Penguins’ third period onslaught from the stats, their shot-attempts-against rate has decreased from 0.99 per even-strength minute under Colliton to 0.90 under King. The scoring-chances-against rate has likewise dropped from 0.52 to 0.46 per even-strength minute.

The simultaneous defensive and goaltending improvement could be occurring hand-in-hand, though.

“Obviously, we’ve cleaned a lot more things up,” Riley Stillman said. “We’re talking a lot more back there. ‘Flower’ is very vocal, always talking. Even [during] TV timeouts, he’s coming in saying that he likes something or he wants something done a little bit differently. The communication we have on the back end makes everyone’s life a little bit easier.”