Blackhawks, Malcolm Subban shut out Blue Jackets as Hawks’ goaltending remains excellent

Stan Bowman’s goaltending experiment with Subban and Kevin Lankinen continues to pay off. The Hawks’ team save percentage ranks sixth in the NHL.

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Malcolm Subban made 26 saves as the Blackhawks beat the Blue Jackets 2-0 on Thursday.

AP Photos

When general manager Stan Bowman sent the Blackhawks into the season without a proven goaltender, he knew it was risky.

Outside the organization, the decision was considered almost indefensible. NHL.com ranked the projected combination of Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia the worst goalie duo in the league. NBC Sports ranked the Hawks 29th in its preseason power rankings, writing that the “goaltending question could really make this season a challenge.”

But 21 games into the season, Bowman’s big risk looks nothing short of brilliant.

Subban’s excellence continued Thursday night as the Hawks wrapped up a two-game sweep of the Blue Jackets with a 2-0 win, earning the former journeyman his second career NHL shutout and his first with the Hawks.

Yet Subban’s current streak — he’s 3-0-1 with a .952 save percentage in his last four starts — hasn’t even been the biggest story of the Hawks’ goaltending unit.

Kevin Lankinen’s out-of-the-blue emergence, to the tune of an 8-3-3 record and .921 save percentage, has him leading the Calder Trophy race for the top NHL rookie and pushing to contend for the Vezina Trophy for the top goalie.

Together, Subban and Lankinen have transformed the Hawks’ goaltending situation from a debacle to the strongest part of a projected playoff team.

“We’ve got to say we’re pleasantly surprised,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Thursday. “They’ve both been very good. They’ve given us a chance to win every night. That’s what you hope for when you give young guys opportunity: You hope they’re going to seize it and take advantage of it, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Two months ago, Subban was coming off two seasons with the Golden Knights that were so bad — his save percentage was .896 over the two seasons combined — that his starts became popular betting targets. Lankinen was a complete unknown, having played zero seconds of NHL hockey during his first six professional seasons.

Their simultaneous breakouts have been inspirational for the rest of the team.

“Watching both those guys get paid off for . . . the work they’ve put in this season, be it in practice or before practice, it’s been huge for the team,” winger Patrick Kane said.

Kane’s perfectly placed wrist shot with 11:15 left Thursday provided all the offense the Hawks needed, differentiating two teams that had both emphasized tighter checking and more responsive defending after Tuesday’s 6-5 thriller.

Forward Carl Soderberg’s empty-net goal, his fifth point in his last six games, sealed the Hawks’ fourth victory and concluded their five-game road trip. They’re now 11-6-4, above real .500 for the first time since Oct. 27, 2018.

“Over three periods, we did a lot of little things that allowed us to stay in the game until we could score,” Colliton said. “We have a couple of elite players, and if we could stay in it, there was a chance we could come through.”

After the game, Subban credited the team, rather than himself, at every opportunity. But he was undeniably solid, stopping all 27 of the Blue Jackets’ shots on goal — including 16 in the third period — in addition to playing the puck well, initiating numerous clean breakouts.

“I just love to play the game, and [I’m] happy for every opportunity that I get,” he said. “It’s been good for our team. Honestly, we’ve been buzzing.”

The Hawks’ team save percentage now stands at .916. That’s sixth-best in the NHL — far, far from dead last.

Bowman’s big risk doesn’t look so risky anymore.

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