There’s no denying that Kevin Lankinen was a major factor in the Chicago Blackhawks’ surprising early-season success. Seemingly swooping in out of nowhere to take over their crease. Malcolm Subban’s resurgence has also been a welcomed bonus through this rebuild. Both deserve credit for their efforts, but their team’s tough stretch of late suggests now might be the time to change things up a bit.
It’s not a proclamation that Lankinen has lost his net or that he isn’t the Blackhawks’ goalie of the future. Nor is it to say that Subban hasn’t proven to be a capable backup. It’s more so to simply address the reality of what is happening, in that Chicago’s current equation isn’t working as it once was.
Following Chicago’s Failed Starts
Subban began the season alongside Collin Delia, as what appeared to be Chicago’s goaltending tandem for the 2020-21 campaign. All signs pointed to those two splitting starts this year, with Subban being extended in the offseason and Delia having patiently waited for such an opportunity since officially joining the club in 2017.
In their season-opener, Subban was bombarded with five goals against in a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Delia then took things a step further and let in five of his own, two games in a row, on his way to a lackluster .863 save percentage (SV%).
Needless to say, it only made sense that the Blackhawks call upon their taxi squad for additional support at that point. Following Lankinen’s hot start, he’s justifiably seen the majority of ice time since mid-January. Although, he has shared the crease here and there.
Subban quickly found his way back into action on Jan. 26, earning a point in Chicago’s overtime loss to the Nashville Predators. He went on to win his next three in a row, which helped balance out his numbers. Yet, Delia hasn’t had such an opportunity granted to him, having last played for the Blackhawks on Jan. 17.
In fact, he was actually sent down to play with Chicago’s AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs for a conditioning sting back in late February.
Chicago Calls Rockford
With Chicago running hot through February, working to improve their winning record of 10-6-4, it was clear that the tandem of Lankinen and Subban was getting the job done. All the while, Delia sat around with little opportunity to develop.
So, why not let him return to Rockford for some playing time? Delia was thrust into action almost immediately. Seemingly too soon, given the six goals allowed on 30 shots in his first game back on Feb. 27. With a chance to redeem himself a week later, he let in seven in less than half a game on March 3. Not great, clearly.
Fortunately for Delia, Rockford gave him another look a few nights later and he started to regain his form. On March 6, he made 35 saves on 37 shots, earning his first win of the season with either Chicago or Rockford. He was right back between the pipes on March 7 and turned that into a two-game streak, stopping 27 for the overtime victory.
Delia’s record with the IceHogs improved to 2-2-0, accumulating a goals-against average (GAA) of less than 2.50 and a.920 SV% through his past two games. He was then rewarded, being called back up to the Blackhawks on March 8.
Bad Stretch for Blackhawks
When things aren’t going well for a team, they typically look to shake things up. Well, there’s no better time than the present for the Blackhawks to do just that. They’ve now lost four straight and six of their past seven, as they head home after six games on the road.
“I think we needed a lot more points than we got,” Adam Boqvist said. “It was a long road trip. Overall, I think we played pretty decent, but against these teams, you’ve got to find a way to win every battle, forecheck hard and put the puck to the net. That’s how you’re going to win games. Obviously, it’s going to be good to go home now.”
Important to note that this lineup is still exceeding far beyond expectation thus far, as Chicago is right in the midst of a playoff berth battle during a season they explicitly stated was to be the start of a rebuild. They found cohesion quicker than anticipation, enjoying rookie performances that have made the league take notice.
It’s ok — expected, really — that this version of the Blackhawks is finding consistency in being streaky. We’ve seen them soar in a successful direction and we’re witnessing them struggle as they go through this current stretch.
Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do anything about it to try and change their fate. They found a way to make sense of relying on their taxi squad when things went wrong initially, so why not see if they can hitch another successful ride at this point in the season?
Battles Benefit the Blackhawks
Delia is due for another chance in Chicago’s net. He was sent to Rockford to refine his game and his progress there is a good indication that he has. Couple that with the fact that Lankinen and Subban could use an excuse to rejuvenate, with the spotlight tilted in a different direction for the time being.
Besides, whenever a team has their members battle for a spot in the lineup, all generally benefit as a result. The players involved work to be at their best, in hopes that they continue to see playing time, while the entire roster is the ultimate victor from enjoying top-notch performances the whole way through.
First things first, the Blackhawks need to find a way to encourage some positive momentum after watching 18 pucks end up in the back of their net during this ugly four-game skid. It can’t get much worse between the pipes, so why not see if Delia can help make things better? It won’t be the only shift necessary to improve Chicago’s fortunes, but it could be a start.
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