NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen out with COVID-19, the Blackhawks knew their goaltending situation Saturday would be an issue.
Those concerns turned into a dire reality in a 6-1 loss to the Predators, starting the Hawks’ 2022 calendar year — after a two-week layoff to end 2021 — on a sour note.
Third-string goalie Collin Delia allowed three goals on seven shots in the first period, and that was all Hawks interim coach Derek King needed to see. Fourth-stringer Arvid Soderblom replaced Delia for the second and third periods, allowing another three goals on 18 shots in his NHL debut.
Predators starter Juuse Saros, meanwhile, looked sharp throughout and finished with 37 saves on 38 shots.
King employed a characteristically diplomatic tone after the game, saying he’ll “never throw a goalie under the bus,” but it was easy to see what let his team down.
“A lot of times it’s what we were doing in front of him,” King said. “Maybe [Delia was] screened on the first one. Second one was our guy — we weren’t very good in the ‘D’-zone there. And then he probably wishes he had that third one back.
“But I can’t fault those guys. If you looked at the scoresheet before the game, they had zero NHL games [this season]. So coming into this building, that’s tough.”
That third goal, on which Nick Cousins tipped in a Mattias Ekholm shot on the -power play shortly after Delia’s one highlight-reel save of the afternoon, deflated the Hawks.
They temporarily had stabilized the ship after allowing two goals in the first six minutes and were threatening to claw back into the game, peppering Saros with chances. Total attempts actually favored the Hawks 30-13 at that point.
But Cousins’ goal with 47 seconds left in the period, and another goal 28 seconds after intermission to fall behind 4-0, rendered the rest of the game largely irrelevant. Shot attempts were 41-39 Hawks from then on.
“That hurts, obviously,” Seth Jones said. “[When] we’re down 2-0, it’s still a game. It’s just a dagger when you have power plays that don’t score and they score. It’s tough to come back from 3-0 after the first.”
“I didn’t think we played a really bad game,” King said. “We had opportunities. We just couldn’t bury them. And they had opportunities, and they scored.”
King felt pulling Delia — who had looked -disengaged since the opening puck drop, even forgetting to bang his stick at the end of one power play — wasn’t something he had to do but might be a “good shake-up for our guys.”
The result was a dramatic end to a whirlwind week for Soderblom, a 22-year-old undrafted Swede whom the Hawks signed this past summer. After going 4-5-0 with a .915 save percentage at Rockford this season, he was called up to the taxi squad Wednesday and promoted to the active roster Friday.
“Yeah, it has been going quick,” he said. “But I feel like I played pretty good, [made] a couple good saves.”
The Hawks have high hopes long-term for Soderblom, although goaltending development can be impossible to predict. They probably won’t read too much into his .833 save percentage in this strange, abridged debut.
He admitted he has encountered a “different style of play” in the AHL and NHL than he did in Sweden. He has worked to improve his positioning on sharp angles and his vision through traffic, two aspects of the game more common on the smaller rinks of North America. But he wasn’t flustered when King called his name during the intermission.
“It’s just a hockey game. [I’m just] trying to do my thing,” Soderblom said. “I just try to do the things I’ve always been doing, focus on stopping the puck and take it calm and easy.”
“He’s pretty calm, pretty cool back there,” King said. “It’s like he’s been in the league for a long time. There’s no nerves or anything. He just plays his game. He got comfortable after the first goal on him — [there] was nothing he could do on a broken play. After that, he settled in. He looked good.”
The Hawks’ starter for Sunday’s game against the Flames was unclear. King said Fleury “has a chance” to be available, based on pending test results. -Otherwise, King will need to make another tricky decision between Delia and Soderblom. -Either way, the goalie situation will remain a concern.