Blackhawks’ Kevin Lankinen, Marc-Andre Fleury have become more than goalie partners
From road-trip lunches to Chicago family get-togethers, Lankinen and Fleury have developed a strong friendship away from the rink.
The Blackhawks brought in goalie Marc-Andre Fleury partly to mentor Kevin Lankinen, and mentor Lankinen, he has.
But it turns out Lankinen also has taught Fleury a thing or two.
“We actually did a couple of things on-ice with me, [goaltending coach] Jimmy Waite and ‘Flower’ working on a couple of things technically in the crease,” Lankinen said. “And he’s asking questions, ‘How do you do this?’
“Obviously, he’s played a long time, but he’s still learning. As a goalie, you’re always learning. You want to stay on top of the game and see what’s working for other guys.”
After a rough first few weeks, the Hawks’ veteran-and-youngster duo has started delivering the expected results in the last month. Their team save percentage since Oct. 30 — .926 — was fourth-best in the NHL.
And from intermissions to practices to nights off to road trips, the 36-year-old Hall of Fame-bound French Canadian and the 26-year-old up-and-coming Finn also have developed a strong friendship, beyond anything the Hawks could’ve hoped for when choosing them this summer as their somewhat unusual goaltending pair.
“It’s been great,” Fleury said. “[He’s an] awesome kid — very polite, respectful. On the ice, [he’s a] very hard worker. I really like his work ethic and his attention to detail. He’s very good technically, and he works hard every day. Between periods, we can talk to each other, talk about goals and stuff like that or just life in general. He’s been fun to play with.”
Added Lankinen: “He’s seen places and he’s been in situations that I’ve only watched on TV. I’m trying to catch up and see what brought him to the places where he’s been, just reflecting on his career and what his path has been like.”
On the Hawks’ recent western road trip, Fleury and Lankinen enjoyed their lunches together at hotel restaurants most days. They’ve discovered they’re both interested in cars, and that became a frequent topic when their conversations drifted from hockey.
And in Chicago, Fleury and Lankinen already have held several get-togethers with their whole families present.
Both families are relatively new in the city, after all. Fleury’s decision to move his wife, Veronique, and three kids from Las Vegas dominated a week of the Hawks’ summer news cycle. Lankinen, meanwhile, was joined midway through last season from Finland by his fiancée, Iina.
“They got to meet each other, and I got to know his family, his wife, his kids,” Lankinen said. “They’re awesome.”
Lankinen added that he and Iina have grown to love Chicago despite its overwhelming size compared to Helsinki. And that’s a good thing because Lankinen might be a part of the Hawks for the long term.
Fleury will be an unrestricted free agent this summer — so will Lankinen — and the Hawks will need to make some decisions about their future plans at the position. Despite some struggles early this season, Lankinen remains 19-17-7 with a .906 save percentage in his first 44 career NHL starts, and he has won two of his last three, allowing two or fewer goals in both.
“I’m slowly progressing,” he said. “My game is slowly reaching the point where I want to be. When I reach there, the results are going to follow.”
Fleury, meanwhile, has been dominant lately, going 4-1-0 with a .955 save percentage in his five starts going into Sunday.
He was initially hesitant to spill the beans about what, exactly, he learned from Lankinen. But he eventually admitted he has been overlapping more this season.
Overlapping is a technique in which his pad extends beyond the post on the outside of the net, allowing him to defend sharp-angle shots in a typical crouch — square to the shooter — instead of pressed up against the post on his knees or standing.
“It’s not something I’ve done before or worked on before,” Fleury said. “He’s been a good example to try to work on it.”
“It makes your life easier whatever happens — whether it’s a shot or a pass [or] stuff from behind the net,” Lankinen said. “We’ve been putting some emphasis on that the last few weeks. It’s showing in his game. He’s more comfortable with those certain situations. And I’m happy that I’ve been able to help him, as well.”
Lankinen also has thoroughly enjoyed the other normalcies of the season — full fan capacities, full travel schedule, etc. — because they’re all new to him.
He spoke openly last season about longing to play in a packed United Center, to experience firsthand the drama and mystique of that environment. He finally has had that wish granted this fall.
“It’s like a completely different league now,” he said. “I always dreamed of those moments where you get a win, and you can go out there and wave at the fans and just soak [it] in. . . . Even when the results might not go your way or you’re not feeling it, those are the moments that will keep you going.”
But regarding his long-term development and outside-of-games maturation, his partnership with Fleury has been most meaningful of all.
“I want to be a Stanley Cup champion; I want to be a Vezina Trophy winner,” Lankinen said. “Everything I can learn from him is helpful.”