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Robin Lehner has been a nothing but gift to the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans.
There is just so much negativity surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks right now. Of course, that is understandable when you find yourself toward the bottom of the standings even though a year ago the team was deemed a “retooling” team on the fly.
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You can really understand why fans are angry about the retooling nonsense that was spewed when the Chicago Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville over a year ago. A retooling on the fly symbolized a month or so of bad hockey, not two wasted seasons for a team deemed “playoff caliber”.
The Blackhawks’ first two forward call-ups this season — Matthew Highmore and Anton Wedin — are reliable bottom-six grinders, but their potential caps out at that.
The Hawks’ third forward call-up — Dylan Sikura, promoted Sunday from the AHL — brings more skill and a much higher ceiling.
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But Sikura, a 166-pound featherweight, doesn’t have the right body or playing style to ever stick in the NHL as a third-line defensive specialist or fourth-line scrapper.
For him to carve out and maintain a full-time roster spot with the Hawks, he’ll have to prove he can produce offense at a solid rate.
“This time around, [I want to] just prove that I can play, I can stay, be an every-day kind of guy up here,” Sikura said. “There’s times last year — toward the end of the year — where I was proving myself a little bit, and I’m excited to get a fresh start and another chance.”
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Sikura played 33 games in 2018-19 for the Hawks and infamously failed to score, despite stellar performance in virtually every other regard.
The winger spent a lot of time with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad on his second call-up and finished with the highest Corsi rating (55.4 percent) and scoring-chance ratio (53.2 percent) on the team. Yet he tallied only eight assists.
He’s hoping to get the first-goal subject out of the way quickly this month.
“That’s something that’s important for me — down there [in Rockford], I get a chance … to score goals,” he said. “Obviously that’s something I’d like to do at this level, so hopefully we can put this to rest soon.”
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Sikura has scored goals aplenty with the IceHogs. He leads the team with nine goals and 16 points in 22 games, and he scored 17 goals and 35 points in 46 games last season.
When the Blackhawks signed Robin Lehner this offseason, many fans were rather confused. Now, here we are two months into the season and all I have to say is Robin Lehner is a gift from the hockey gods.
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Lehner is a player who is not afraid to speak his mind, or try and spark something from his teammates. Media and fans alike read into his “wake up” comments to his teammates when he was pulled against the Avalanche, yet no one understands what Lehner was saying.
Lehner was not trying to blame the players or trying to say he is better than them. Instead, he is just saying they can play better as a team, something the Blackhawks have struggled with so far this season.
Chicago has relied heavily on Robin Lehner to steal games for the Blackhawks. He stole a point from the Arizona Coyotes a few nights ago, and even submitted his application for save of the year during that game. Just watch the incredible save Lehner made during the game on Sunday night.
Save of the Year candidate from Robin Lehner. Wow. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/AlJpdjrPAN
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) December 9, 2019
Sure, I know that was just one game and one great save. However, when you look at the numbers, the play of Robin Lehner is actually very remarkable.
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In games that Robin Lehner has won, or lost in OT, he has faced 38 or more shots in 8 out of the 10 games. This includes an incredible 53-save effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a 44-save effort against the Coyotes en route to a shootout loss.
Yes, Robin Lehner might not have the best shootout numbers, but rather than scrutinize those numbers, how about we scrutinize the Blackhawks for failing to end the game earlier? Robin Lehner has been forced to stand on his head all season, and things will not change.
The Blackhawks racked up a season-high 27 penalty minutes in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, 17 of which came from Dennis Gilbert alone. And it all came on one sequence.
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After watching Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers deliver a hit from behind on Alex DeBrincat that went unpenalized, Gilbert skated half the length of the ice to confront Demers and initiated a fight with the 11-year NHL veteran. The scrap didn’t last long, but Gilbert was assessed a two-minute penalty for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.
DeBrincat said after the game he appreciated Gilbert sticking up for him and so did the Blackhawks bench, most of whom gave Gilbert fist bumps and head taps as he was escorted out. But it came at a time when the Blackhawks were leading 3-2 near the midway mark of the second period and, unfortunately for Gilbert and the team, the Coyotes capitalized on the power play to even things up at 3-3 and it turned out to be the last goal scored in regulation.
“I thought it was a dirty hit,” Gilbert said. “His numbers were showing and he decided to follow through and make the hit still. So it’s tough, having to get an extra penalty for it. It’s no fun and watching them score on the power play, they tie the game up and we end up not getting the win, which is unfortunate. But if you let that stuff happen to players on your team, especially your best players, it’s going to keep happening.
“I’m not a fighter by any means; it kind of happens that coincidentally it’s two games in a row. But I’m going to stand up for myself and for my teammates. … I’m not going to sit back and let somebody get taken advantage of, whether it’s on the ice or walking down the streets in Chicago.”
We owe Corey Crawford a lot, but at the end of the day, I want to see Robin Lehner in the net every night. He is a great teammate who is not afraid to speak his mind about tough topics around in the league.
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Lehner is guaranteed to be in Chicago until the end of the season. I believe it is time to re-sign him before he realizes he might have an easier time winning with a team like San Jose.
I hope Robin Lehner continues to shine in the NHL for a long time. At only 28 years of age, he still has some great years of hockey ahead of him. Hopefully, all in a Chicago Blackhawks’ sweater, of course.