Say what you will about the Chicago Blackhawks management, but they are sticking to their word early on this season. Their goal prior to the start of the season was to get younger and to insert more youth into the lineup.
But as it turns out, they didn’t really have a choice. As of Sunday, five players are on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list and cannot dress. Furthermore, Jonathan Toews (undisclosed injury) and Kirby Dach (broken wrist) have yet to play.
Reese Johnson made his NHL debut in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets, making him the fifth Blackhawks’ player to do so this season. He played 10:56 and recorded a team-high seven hits.
Lankinen Stellar Once Again
With all the uncertainty about the Blackhawks goalie situation before the season, Kevin Lankinen has certainly earned the starting role. Lankinen stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced in his third consecutive start. He continues to play with more poise than one would expect from a rookie goaltender. He has a knack for making timely saves, including a few dandies in a 16-save second period and another 12 in the third.
Through the first ten minutes of the game, the Blackhawks had already recorded five shots on goal and four scoring chances. It was a much better start than Friday’s game in which they had just five shots in the entire opening period.
The newly-formed first line of Mattias Janmark, Philipp Kurashev, and Patrick Kane opened the scoring at the 12:32 mark of the first. Each player touched the puck on a 3-on-2 Kurashev finished off the great sequence by burying his third goal of the season.
The Blue Jackets would go on to score off the rush on a rebound and the two teams went into the first intermission tied at one.
The ice started to tilt in favor of the Blackhawks in the second period. They were unable to convert on their first power play of the game but did have five shots on goal and created momentum.
The fourth line of Johnson, David Kampf, and Matthew Highmore set the tone by getting pucks deep and winning battles along the boards. The top line also continued their strong play and logged seven scoring chances through two periods. The Blackhawks were hemming the Blue Jackets in their own end and finished with 16 shots in the period but were unable to score.
The Blackhawks finally broke the tie at the 12:19 mark of the third period. Pius Suter threw the puck on net from the goal line and banked it off Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. Suter now leads all NHL rookies with four goals.
The top line extended the Blackhawks lead to two with a goal off a turnover by Merzļikins. Kane scored into an empty net off a feed from Kurashev, who now has four points in his rookie season.
The Blackhawks held on to win 3-1 and now have a record of 3-4-3 on the season.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Blackhawks face off against the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this season when the two teams play at the United Center on Tuesday, February 2nd. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 PM CT and the game will air on NBC Sports Chicago. Tune in to the Four Feathers Podcast for Blackhawks postgame shows throughout the season as well as additional analysis and commentary.