Kevin Lankinen’s Blackhawks career on thin ice as struggles continue

Lankinen has allowed 11 goals on his last 54 shots faced, dropping his season save percentage to .886 as he approaches free agency.

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Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen has struggled all season.

Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen has struggled all season.

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It took Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen three tries to break his stick over the post after allowing the Sabres’ game-winning goal Monday.

That entire escapade, starting with the ridiculous goal itself, sums up Lankinen’s season quite accurately. Nothing has come easily, and almost nothing has gone well.

Through 20 appearances and 18 starts, Lankinen is 4-9-5 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. He ranks 65th and tied for 68th, respectively, in those two categories among 72 goalies league-wide.

In terms of goals saved above average — a more holistic stat comparing actual goals allowed to expected goals allowed — Lankinen’s minus-13.8 mark ranks 69th, ahead of only the Red Wings’ Thomas Greiss, the Blue Jackets’ Joonas Korpisalo and the Kraken’s Philipp Grubauer.

Of course, just a few days ago Lankinen seemed to be on an upward trajectory after finally reclaiming the Hawks’ starting goalie role.

He stopped 31 of 33 shots March 19 against the Wild (shortly before the Marc-Andre Fleury trade), then 27 of 29 shots last Wednesday against the Ducks (right after the Fleury trade), then 17 of 17 shots through the first two periods Saturday against the Golden Knights.

“I see this as a big opportunity for myself,” he said after the Ducks game, adding that getting back into a regular starting rhythm would help.

“I wanted to be ‘The Guy.’ Obviously we had [Fleury] and the situation was a little different, but I’ve been working extremely hard and I think this is my time to shine. I’m going to make the most out of it.”

Considering all he endured the first five months of this season, missing extended time with both COVID-19 and a hand injury while playing only sporadically in Fleury’s shadow even when healthy, his poor numbers were somewhat forgivable.

A strong finish would’ve lent support to the idea he just needs stability in order to thrive. His rookie-year breakout as a regular starter was one of the Hawks’ brightest moments of 2021, after all.

With 15 games left, most of which he’s forecasted to start, it’s still possible he could prove that. But the briefness of his surge and his truly disastrous last four periods — starting with the third period Saturday and continuing through Monday — are a concerning sign.

Facing unrestricted free agency this summer, Lankinen’s future with the Hawks rests on thin ice.

He has now allowed 11 goals on his last 54 shots faced. Some of those goals have been unlucky, but he has been lucky not to allow others, too — such as a wraparound early in the third period Monday that Seth Jones barely cut off.

His rebound control has been problematic. His start March 10 against the Bruins represented a particularly awful night of rebound control.

And his positioning also has become suspect, especially during scramble sequences or when the puck angle changes quickly. His movement is sloppy and overly aggressive, and he often loses his crease.

The Sabres’ winner Monday was unlucky in one sense, as the broken-stick shot caromed off the end-boards at the perfect angle. But that wouldn’t have mattered had Lankinen not gotten stranded so far out of the crease and needed to slide back so recklessly.

The worst part of Lankinen’s struggles this season is that they’ve essentially overwritten all of his success from last season. His minus-13.8 GSAA has dwarfed his plus-1.9 GSAA from 2021, and his career save percentage has fallen from .909 to .901.

When Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson looks this summer at the Hawks’ cloudy goaltending situation and maps out a plan moving forward, Lankinen probably won’t be included in it — barring a miraculous April run or a very explicit tanking directive for next season.

That’s fair, because he hasn’t shown he should be. But considering how promising his career once looked, it’s also a shame.

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