Although THW’s Chicago Blackhawks writing team is always happy to find content that allows us to dig deeper into what surrounds the team, we’d prefer to have more positive topics to discuss. Unfortunately, the club isn’t finding as much success through the mid-season stretch, playing more like the rebuilding team they were meant to be rather than the surprise they had become.
On this week’s episode of Blackhawks Banter, we’ll look ahead in hopes that this is just a rough patch as opposed to Chicago’s new norm. My name is Shaun Filippelli (@mralwayswrite), and I’ll be your host for Episode 20. Joining me will be Gail Kauchak (@littlegailk), Brooke LoFurno (@brooke_lofo), and Greg Boysen (@GregBoysen).
Enjoy this sneak peek of what we’ll be bantering about, but be sure to catch the full episode when it drops for even more insights and predictions.
Pushing Past the Panthers
Chicago is now 0-3-1 against the Florida Panthers. The Blackhawks have allowed 20 goals against in that span, scoring only 11 of their own. They also gave up leads in three of those contests. They have four more games against the Panthers this season and can’t afford to keep losing out on points, especially when it’s their game to win.
Clearly, whatever head coach Jeremy Colliton has preached hasn’t gone as planned against the Panthers. So, here’s your chance to speak for him. Heading into the third period of their next meeting, the Blackhawks are up by a goal. You’re asked to give the team one piece of coaching advice to help close out the victory. What do you say?
“We believed in ourselves at the beginning of the year when no one else did. We came out of the gate this season and did really well. We’ve grown, we’ve improved, we’re right there with all these teams. And that’s because we embraced playing hard, we embraced being relentless, we embraced wanting it more than them. Now we’re in a rough patch, but we’re gaining resilience from that adversity. Tonight we’re in this game, and we’re winning this game. If we keep playing the right way, it’s going to turn around, and we’re going to start winning. Now, let’s go out and make that winning start tonight.”
“Go out there and have fun. If you’re not doing that, the game usually will reflect it. There was a very good stretch where things were clicking, and it was fun. So let loose and enjoy the process and see where that takes us. If you get too much in your head and start playing scared and on your heels, it doesn’t help anything. So embrace the challenge and be eager to defend the lead.”
“You have a lead going into the third period, so you have to continue to do the things that got you here in the first place. Don’t fall into a dump-and-chase game, and just hope the clock runs out before you give up a goal. Stay aggressive. Keep the pressure on them. Keep your feet moving and draw penalties. Even if you don’t score, you are at least spending much of the two minutes in their zone. Too many times, we’ve tried to go into a defensive shell, and it costs us in the end. You should always dance with the one who brought you.”
“Whatever we’ve done to this point, in this game today, has clearly worked. We’re up a goal, and the win is in our hands. So, why change a thing? Keep playing the way you have, and let’s do exactly what’s proven effective. We’ve worked hard to prepare for these moments, so execution should be the easy part. No need to overcomplicate the strategy; simply trust your instincts. We know we’re beyond just good enough, as the scoreboard is showing us that as we speak. Time to prove it. So, let’s go wrap up our win and move on to the next one!”
Lankinen Is Lagging
From what was a rookie-of-the-year calibre start to his season, Kevin Lankinen’s play has come back down to Earth through his recent slump. He’s 1-4-1 in his past six, allowing 22 goals for a save percentage of .887. That’s well below the standard that he set when he was helping Chicago achieve success just mere weeks ago.
Which begs the question: is his hot start simply that or is it the norm that will return following a larger sample size of games? Do you fear that Lankinen’s current level of play is what fans should expect the rest of the way through 2020-21 or are you confident that he’ll get back to putting up those elite numbers?
I think it’s a little bit of both. Opposing teams have studied him and have a better idea of how to beat him now. But Lankinen’s learning how to get the best of his opponents as well. He’s very fundamentally sound, and he’s also very confident. That combination of talent and mental toughness is what it takes to be successful in this league.
We also have to remember Lankinen is still a rookie with limited experience. There’s going to be ebbs and flows to his game. But he will continue to improve. I think we will see a more positive trend in Lankinen’s play coming very soon.
I think Lankinen’s recent play is what fans should expect. We all knew that the “superstar” goalie streak would not last. All goalies go on hot streaks, including him. What I think should be expected of him is that he is a good goalie, but not to expect that he will be akin to Marc-Andre Fleury for the rest of the season since he is still growing into the game.
I don’t know if he will be back at the elite level we saw. I don’t think he is as great as he was during the first month of the season, but he sure isn’t as lackluster as we have seen the past few starts, either. This was going to happen at some point. The book came out on him and the division adjusted; now he needs to readjust. Based on his work ethic and desire to be the best goaltender he can, I have little doubt that he will bounce back. Do I think he is a Vezina-worthy goaltender? No, but he certainly can be a very good starter for years to come.
Simply stated, l don’t think it’s fair to ever expect a goalie to put up the types of numbers Lankinen had to kickstart his career in Chicago. While those performances were certainly welcome, it’s a losing strategy to assume that level of play is sustainable. Yet, seeing what Lankinen has already showcased certainly adds anticipation to how much more he is capable of.
As far as this rough patch of games is concerned, I attribute it to a couple of things. First, the team around him is also not playing up to the standard they had set during more successful streaks. They are all bringing down their individual and team stats. Second, it happens. Even the best players and most well-rounded teams go cold from time to time. As the Blackhawks improve collectively, Lankinen’s numbers will align.
Choose a Cheat Code
While it’s clear that parts of Chicago’s game exceeded well beyond expectations through the first half of their year, some aspects have levelled off as they enter their mid-season stretch. From having climbed into a playoff spot to now seeing it at risk as the teams around them find the success they’ve lost of late. This is cause for concern as far as what to expect the rest of the way.
Taking into account what matters most to team results, specifically what you feel would allow for the greatest benefit to the Blackhawks, here’s your chance to set an advantage in their favour. Choose one of the scenarios below, assuming it would then mean it’s a guarantee throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 schedule.
- Power play improves to 40%
- Penalty kill maintains at 90%
- Goals against average of 2.50
- Win whenever extra time is required
- Every game is at the United Center
We’ll just share our answers, saving the rationalization for the next episode.
Penalty kill maintains at 90%.
Goals against average of 2.50.
Goals against average of 2.50.
Goals against average of 2.50.
Catch Up Before Our Next Show
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
Check out more of my work at mralwayswrite.com.