Kevin Lankinen’s dream season has received a dose of reality over the last month.
The Blackhawks’ breakout rookie goalie watched his numbers crash in April, his performance worn down by a workload he has never handled before.
But his late-season slump shouldn’t ruin his impressive season.
Considering how low expectations were for the Hawks’ goaltending unit in January, Lankinen’s emergence with long-term No. 1 potential — even if that proposition doesn’t seem quite as certain as it did — remains one of the most heartening outcomes of the Hawks’ season.
First, however, comes an analysis of his recent downturn. Since the start of April, Lankinen has gone 3-6-1 with an .872 save percentage in 11 starts.
Digging deeper into the numbers — and narrowing them to solely even-strength data — doesn’t provide a much prettier picture.
Among 64 qualifying goalies during that span, Lankinen ranks 59th in save percentage. He’s last in goals saved above average (GSAA), a holistic stat that calculates the difference between a goalie’s actual save percentage and an average goalie’s expected save percentage against the same quantity and quality of shots.
He’s also last in the difference between actual and expected goals allowed. And he’s 53rd in save percentage against high-danger shots.
“It’s not unexpected with how much he’s played,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said last week. “He’s had some good efforts here sprinkled in, as well. It’s just a tough grind, this league, and a lot of our guys have gone through that. We believe in him, and we’ve got to help him through it.”
Colliton has maintained his belief in Lankinen, who turned 26 last week, by playing him consistently.
Lankinen has started 11 of the Hawks’ 14 games since the start of April, including the last three straight. He looked slightly better Thursday and Saturday against the Panthers and made a hefty 72 saves in the two games combined, but he still finished with save percentages below .900 — an easy “quality start” dividing line — in both.
“We wanted to give him the opportunity to bounce back,” Colliton said before Lankinen’s start Saturday. “He had a couple games where he didn’t reach his normal level. [Thursday’s] game was a step in the right direction, so it’s a chance to build on that.”
Yet Lankinen’s overall season numbers are still very good, even when including his awful April. After all, most goalies endure rough stretches at some point.
He ranks 20th among 64 eligible goalies in even-strength save percentage, 25th in save percentage against high-danger shots and 29th in the difference between actual and expected goals allowed.
Most encouraging, he ranks 14th in GSAA — above Anton Khudobin (18th), Jordan Binnington (21st), Tuukka Rask (22nd), Robin Lehner (24th), Carey Price (25th) and Connor Hellebuyck (27th).
And Lankinen has done it despite handling the fifth-most minutes of any goalie and playing behind a subpar Hawks defense prone to poor marking and frequent turnovers.
The average distance of the shots he has faced this season is 32.51 feet, the second-shortest of any goalie (backup Malcolm Subban has faced the sixth-shortest average distance at 33.23). The game Saturday exemplified that. Four of the five goals Lankinen allowed were scored by Panthers forwards left unguarded in front of or around the net.
Lankinen almost certainly will be the goalie the Hawks protect in the expansion draft this summer, and he almost certainly will enter next season penned into the starting role. Four months ago, the Hawks couldn’t pen — or even pencil — anyone into that.
So Lankinen’s season can be deemed nothing short of a success, even as he falls back to earth down the stretch.