Blackhawks’ Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban goalie duo has fallen back to earth in March
The Blackhawks ranked sixth in the NHL with a .916 save percentage through Feb. 26. Since then, they’ve ranked 27th with an .883 save percentage.
Through late February, the Blackhawks’ goaltending was one of the most surprising storylines in the NHL.
A month later, the goalies havefallen back to earth — with a thud.
Starter Kevin Lankinen is 1-4-1 with an .887 save percentage in March. Backup Malcolm Subban is 1-3-0 with an .871 save percentage since Feb. 27, the moment he received consecutive starts and seemed ready to challenge Lankinen for the No. 1 role.
And the Hawks, whose .916 save percentage through Feb. 26 ranked sixth in the NHL, are now all the way down to 19th (as of Sunday).
Since that date, their team save percentage is .883, 27th in the league. Only the Sabres, Senators, Ducks and Flyers have been worse during that span. And for the season, the Hawks’ save percentage is down to .904.
The goaltending regression is a big reason why March has gone so poorly for the Hawks.
Then again, the Hawks’ brutal schedule against elite opponents also has contributed to the goaltending struggles. It’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum.
“If you don’t have that support from behind with your goaltender, making the saves that you need and maybe a couple more that you maybe shouldn’t make, sometimes it’s hard to build confidence,” coach Jeremy Colliton said on March 11.
“As a goalie, you can’t really dwell on numbers that much because that’s going to haunt you in the long run,” Lankinen said last week. “My game is evolving here. I’m learning every single time I play these opponents — I will learn their patterns. You’ve just got to work through [things], and the results will follow.”
Lankinen’s Calder Trophy campaign has been shelved. But his confidence has not been, and his performance this year remains encouraging for team management.
The Hawks entered 2021 wanting to simply see what they had in Lankinen, Subban and Collin Delia, and Lankinen has proved to be a keeper.
Subban is more of a question mark. His inability to solve his rebound-control woes has been costly and frustrating.
He’s an excellent first-save goalie, but a large portion of the goals he concedes are on second opportunities. He has faced 3.8 rebound attempts per 60 minutes this season, ninth-most among 64 goalies.
He and Lankinen also have different goaltending styles, which Subban recently analyzed.
“[Kevin is] pretty good at reading the play,” Subban said. “He has good hands. He’ll cut pucks off that are going high, and he’s able to keep his hands close to him. Me, I go more sideways for pucks. I wait a little more [for them to come to me], whereas he cuts pucks off in front so he doesn’t have to open up as much to make saves. He’s really good at that. I try to use my athleticism a lot to my advantage.”
Delia, meanwhile, appears to be a forgotten man. He hasn’t played in an NHL game since Jan. 17 and went 2-2 with an .858 save percentage in four AHL conditioning starts between Feb. 27 and March 7.
When asked on March 8 if he’d consider getting Delia any NHL action, Colliton said bluntly: “In the immediate future, I don’t think that’s something we’re looking at.”
Colliton’s faith in Lankinen and Subban seems endless by contrast. He hasn’t pulled a goalie this season. Subban was allowed to see out even his last two starts, in which the Hawks trailed 5-1 and 4-0 at the second intermissions.
“Every situation is different, but, overall, I try to give the guys a chance to respond to adversity,” Colliton said.
Colliton likely will have to follow the same approach as his goalies seek to overcome their March doldrums.