There’s an unwritten but steadfastly followed rule for NHL coaches, young and old, to never criticize — and certainly to never blame a loss on –their goaltender.
Derek King did his best to follow that rule Sunday after the Blackhawks’ 6-4 loss to the Stars — their seventh consecutive defeat –but he couldn’t completely skirt around the struggles of starter Kevin Lankinen.
“We could’ve used a couple stops here and there — and I’m sure the goalies feel the same way — but I’ll never throw goalies [under the bus] or anything,” King said. “We need to be better in front of them, I guess.”
“He was just off, that’s all,” he added later. “He was having an off night, just like some of our players have had off nights. It’s just magnified with the goalie, because he’s the last resource defending.”
Lankinen, to his credit, has avoided completely cratering at any point this season. Every awful stretch has been countered by a respectable stretch. Since his embarrassing third-period meltdown March 28 against the Sabres, for example, he’d gone three consecutive games with a save percentage of .905 or better, including some overtime heroics against the Coyotes and a stellar 60-minute effort against the Kraken.
But if alternating awful and respectable stretches doesn’t sound like an effective formula for season-long success, that’s because it isn’t. Lankinen has won just four of 22 starts, with no thanks to the team in front of him, and now sports an .886 save percentage (after entering the day at .890).
He exited Sunday –replaced by Collin Delia at the second intermission — having allowed five goals on 20 shots, and four of them were probably stoppable. Jamie Benn scored off a juicy rebound in front, Roope Hintz slid a relatively slow shot past Lankinen along the ice and Jason Robertson took advantage of him twice, first when Lankinen lost track of his net and the puck and later when Lankinen was simply beaten by a clean shot.
“He’s played well,” King said. “He has kept us in games and not [been] rewarded. And tonight, it just wasn’t his night.”
Boris Katchouk’s first takeaway about Chicago, his new home, is the food selection.
“I could go to a new restaurant every day of the season,” he joked Sunday pregame. “It’s a cool city, for sure.”
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Katchouk arrived with little in the way of expectations. He has adjusted perhaps slower than former Lightning teammate Taylor Raddysh has, but on Sunday he finally earned his first goal — and first point –with the Hawks, blasting a one-timer past Stars goalie Jake Oettinger.
“It has been up and down,” he said. “There’s some good games but there’s also some bad games, but I expected that. I’m just coming into each and every game and trying to put my best foot forward. I’m not here to score a ton of goals or anything like that. I’m here to play a 200-foot game.”
The new-look fourth line of Katchouk with Reese Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle was surprisingly yet clearly the Hawks’ best line Sunday.
King, who’d previously urged Katchouk to focus on playing a “north-south game” with a strong emphasis on forechecking, showered them with praise.
“They were outstanding,” he said. “That’s good for them. They had a job; we talked to them about how they had to play; [and] they played it to a ‘T.'”