Though his 17-14-5 record may not have shown it, Kevin Lankinen’s career got off to a promising start with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020.
Lankinen, who was in the Calder Trophy conversation for much of the season, faced the third-most shots (1,204) and made the third-most saves (1,095) in the NHL that year, and he ranked 14th in save percentage (.909) for the lowly Blackhawks, who finished with the 10th-fewest wins in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.
And after the following year — in which the Blackhawks surrendered goals in bunches and just three teams offered their goaltenders less goal support than they did — Lankinen found himself looking for a new employer after a disappointing Year 2 (8-15-6 record, .891 save percentage, 3.50 goals-against average).
Fortunately for him, former Nashville Predators general manager David Poile had a soft spot for Finnish goalies and he just happened to have a need for a backup goaltender. Fast forward a little over a season and a quarter later, and Lankinen has not only established himself as one of the more reliable backups in the NHL, he’s also salvaged his career.
Lankinen made his third start of 2023 Saturday at Bridgestone Arena, and it just happened to come against his former team. It was his first time facing Chicago since he joined the Predators last season.
The 28-year-old Finn not only earned the win in the 4-2 Predators victory, he also held rookie phenom Connor Bedard without a goal for just the third time in his last eight games. He also became only the second backup goaltender this year to keep Bedard from putting one in the back of the net (Boston’s Jeremy Swayman was the other).
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little extra special,” Lankinen said of beating his former team. “Obviously, Chicago will always have a special place in my heart. That was the place where they gave me the opportunity to fulfill my boyhood dream to play in the NHL, and I spent four years there, so I created a lot of friendships and a lot of connections with people. The city of Chicago is amazing and the organization is great. Those were some great memories, but I’m happy to be on this side tonight.”
Lankinen turned away 29 of 31 shots, including two saves a piece on the power play and penalty kill. It was his second win of the season and his 11th in 21 starts since joining the Predators.
“I think he kept us around a little bit early and he was rock solid for the rest of the game,” head coach Andrew Brunette said. “So, I’m sure he’s feeling good. It’s nice to see him get in there. It’s been a while, so to see him come in as sharp as he was, credit to him to be ready at any time.”
This is now a Kevin Lankinen stan account pic.twitter.com/29Xg6rmCjL
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) November 18, 2023
The numbers will tell you Lankinen’s tenure with the Blackhawks wasn’t pretty. He posted a 25-29-11 record with a 3.23 GAA and .901 save percentage in two years with a team that was writhing after hitting the reset button.
But since he landed in Nashville, it’s been a different story. He recorded new career bests last year in save percentage (.916) and goals-against average (2.75), and among goalies with 19 or more appearances, he finished in the top 20 in save percentage (tied for 10th), goals-saved above expected (17th), even-strength save percentage (17th) and save percentage on unblocked shots (20th), per Money Puck.
This year, Lankinen has picked up right where he left off — two wins in three appearances, .910 save percentage, 3.01 GAA — and he could potentially be positioning himself to compete for a possible starting gig elsewhere in 2024.
“Goaltending is a little special because we have only one guy that can be between the pipes, and obviously we have [Juuse Saros] in here, who is a world-class goalie and one of the best goalies in the world,” Lankinen added. “It’s tough to steal some games, but at the same time, I’ve got my own motivation and my own desire to get better and perform and take some steps in my career, so I think that’s just the big picture (for me) to keep in mind, to work hard every single day and earn your starts.”
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