Over the weekend, the Chicago Blackhawks faced off against the new Central Division rival Columbus Blue Jackets in a two-game series at the United Center. In the series opener on Friday, the Jackets and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo bested the Hawks by a score of 2-1. Korpisalo stopped 31 of 32 shots faced, and Columbus’ leading scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand tallied two points (two goals) to help extend the club’s point streak to seven games.
“I thought we played well enough to win,” Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome said after Friday’s game. “…I thought we got better as the game went on, but [Korpisalo] played great. He’s a good goalie. He moves quick, made some big saves.”
However, Blackhawks netminder (and Korpisalo’s good buddy) Kevin Lankinen struck his revenge on Sunday, making 32 saves and anchoring his team to a 3-1 victory. Patrick Kane (one goal, one assist) and Philipp Kurashev (one goal, one assist) both recorded two-point games to carry the load offensively.
“Ton of credit to that group in there,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “They really competed hard and did a lot of little things away from the puck… Obviously, [Lankinen] made some big saves for us.”
Here are five key takeaways from these two contests:
Lankinen: Early Calder Trophy Candidate
Lankinen, without a doubt, was the Blackhawks’ best player during the two-game series against Columbus. Despite earning his first regulation loss on Friday, Lankinen stopped 25 of 27 shots faced, giving his team a chance to win throughout the contest. The 25-year-old rookie followed up that performance with a 32-save effort on Sunday to snap the Hawks’ three-game losing skid. Through his first six NHL starts, ‘Lanky’ is now 3-1-2 with an incredible 1.97 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
“Every single game, every single period I’m out there, I feel more and more relaxed,” Lankinen said, sounding far from a rookie. “I get more and more confidence.”
While the sample size has been small, Lankinen is looking like the future in net in Chicago. After all, he has backstopped the Blackhawks in all three of their victories in 2021, as well as two of their three losses in overtime and the shootout. Lankinen has also allowed two goals or fewer in five consecutive starts. Without Lankinen, it’s scary to think what the Hawks record would be.
Lankinen may not be the first name that comes to mind in the Calder Trophy race, but he certainly is serving the largest role. Yes, Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and New Jersey’s Ty Smith both have been tremendous so far, but Lankinen is the only reason the Blackhawks have three wins. In case you forgot, the Hawks are currently without Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Brent Seabrook, Alex Nylander, and Adam Boqvist, among a few others. Even with all of those players out, Lankinen is (somehow) keeping the Blackhawks in seemingly every game. 10 games may be a bit early, but Lankinen is officially in the Calder Trophy race.
Both Blackhawks’ players from Switzerland had a significant impact in the 3-1 victory on Sunday. Pius Suter tallied the game-winning goal early in the third period, and Kurashev recorded two assists, including the primary on Kane’s second goal of the night to put the Blue Jackets away.
Ahead of Sunday’s matchup vs. Columbus, Kurashev was promoted to the Hawks’ top line with Kane and Mattias Janmark. Kurashev, 21, has been impressive through his first nine NHL games and should continue to receive top-six minutes.
Suter, 24, now leads all NHL rookies with four goals on the season. However, three of those came in one game against the Detroit Red Wings, and since that contest, Suter has struggled to produce offensively. Before scoring the game-winner on Sunday, Suter was demoted to the Blackhawks third line in favor of Hagel. In practice on Monday, he was skating with Kampf and Highmore on the fourth line.
Former Red Deer Rebels Making An Impact
Blackhawks forward Brandon Hagel made his season debut on Jan. 19 against the Florida Panthers and has remained in the lineup ever since. Well, on Sunday, Reese Johnson, who was Hagel’s teammate during their junior hockey days with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, made his NHL debut against Columbus. Johnson slotted in on the Hawks fourth line along with David Kampf and Matthew Highmore, and he wound up leading the team with seven hits in just 10:56 of ice time.
Both Hagel and Johnson provide much-needed physicality and a defensive mindset to the bottom-six forward group. With so many of the Blackhawks forwards out at the moment, it’s safe to expect the former Rebels to keep getting looks in the lineup.
Blackhawks COVID-19 Protocol List Continues To Grow
The Blackhawks were scheduled to have practice on Saturday morning but were forced to cancel due to growing concerns over the potential exposure of COVID-19. Fast forward just a couple of hours, and forward Ryan Carpenter and defenseman Nicolas Beaudin were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Chicago now has five players in COVID-19 protocol: Beaudin, Boqvist, Carpenter, DeBrincat, and Lucas Wallmark. *Inserts Bart Simpson ‘Ay Caramba’ GIF*
Powerplay Remains A Strength, Surprisingly
Coming into the weekend series, the Blackhawks had power-play goals in seven of their eight games played in 2021. On Friday, the man advantage stayed hot as Dylan Strome found the back of the net for his third goal of the year. Funny enough, all three of Strome’s goals have come via powerplay.
Dominik Kubalik➡️Patrick Kane➡️Dylan Strome🚨
— Talkin’ Hawkey (@TalkinHawkey) January 30, 2021
The Blackhawks were unable to convert on the powerplay on Sunday, but they continued to move the puck well and created scoring opportunities. Through 10 games, the Hawks have the NHL’s sixth-best powerplay at 33.3 percent.