Thanks to his late-season run as the Blackhawks’ undisputed starting goaltender again, Kevin Lankinen’s 2021-22 sample size of 32 appearances (and 29 starts) ended up nearly equaling his 2021 rookie-season sample size of 37 appearances.
And the comparison between the two seasons isn’t flattering.
Lankinen’s save percentage dropped from .909 to .891, which ranked 60th among 64 qualifying goalies NHL-wide. His high-danger save percentage fell from .816 to .777, which also ranked 60th.
His goals-against average increased from 3.01 to 3.50, which ranked 58th. And his goals-saved-above-average metric (a holistic evaluator for goalie performance) fell from plus-1.8 to minus-15.6, which ranked 61st.
He did rescue his statistics a tiny bit at the very end of the season, going 3-2-0 with a .914 save percentage over his last six appearances and 2-0-0 with a .946 save percentage in his last two (against the Flyers and Golden Knights). But his season overall was still very disappointing, undermining most of the optimism that his solid first season created about his NHL future.
What makes the situation even weirder and tougher to evaluate –as Lankinen, who turned 27 on Thursday, enters the offseason as a pending unrestricted free agent –is Lankinen’s defiant, unshakeable positivity about it all.
“I’m happy the way I’ve been performing on a nightly basis, just playing night after night,” he said after the Flyers game. “My game is where I want it to be now. Obviously you can always work on things, but I’m pretty happy with the progress we’ve been making working with [Hawks goalie coach] Jimmy Waite this year.”
“[Jimmy has] been…just trusting my game, seeing that I’m doing the right things all the time, and he’s happy with the progress I’ve made,” he added a minute later. “He brings some new stuff to my game — I’ve been able to add a couple things that I maybe didn’t do before — and I’ve been able to share a couple thoughts with him, as well. So we did a good job here.”
Lankinen’s perpetually bright, happy personality was a breath of fresh air during the COVID season, and it’s impressive he managed to maintain it through every wave of this season’s misery. At this point, though, it unfortunately comes off as aloof and unaccountable.
Asked directly about his subpar numbers, he tried to explain that he’s “not a big numbers guy.”
“I’m trying to look always behind the result…because sometimes the result doesn’t always tell the whole truth,” he said. “The stats are kind of a reflection of the team and how the team is playing in front of you, no matter where you play.”
He said he worked with Waite to specifically improve with fighting traffic, handling the puck, sealing the posts and learning when to challenge shooters, among other things.
On the other hand, his rebound control was a visible weakness all season, although he insisted in March it was “one of my strengths.” He also often challenged shooters too aggressively, causing him to lose his net, which led to countless scrambled moments and pucks banked in off of him.
General manager Kyle Davidson will face a difficult decision whether to re-sign him, especially with the Hawks’ entire goaltending situation so cloudy. Collin Delia is also a pending UFA.
Interim coach Derek King, who definitely shares Lankinen’s penchant for positivity, nonetheless gave him the benefit of the doubt when assessing his yearlong performance.
“He played well enough to win hockey games, and we just couldn’t get that extra goal or two or defend well enough in front of him,” King said. “He deserved better. Trust me, there were games where it was like, ‘Whoo, do I pull him out now or do I leave him in there?’ But he’s a good goaltender.”