Other Sports

Robin Lehner and Calvin de Haan make Blackhawks debuts, but Jets rally for 3-2 overtime victory

Robin Lehner and Calvin de Haan waited patiently to make their Blackhawks debuts, albeit for different reasons.

De Haan is the top-four defenseman acquired in the offseason from the Hurricanes whose nagging groin injury forced him to miss the entire preseason as well as the first two games of the season.

Lehner is the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist who nonetheless found himself without a team after the start of free agency when the Islanders went in another direction. The Hawks quickly snagged him with a one-year, $5 million contract to create a goaltending tandem with Corey Crawford.

Crawford started the Hawks' Oct. 4 season opener in Prague as well as the home opener Thursday, both of which ended in losses.

Which is at least partly why coach Jeremy Colliton went with Lehner on Saturday against the Jets at the United Center. Any nerves for Lehner before his first game in a Hawks uniform?

"I don't think nervous is the right word for it," Lehner said. "You just get excited to get out there and get going."

Lehner and de Haan brought veteran leadership and stability to the lineup Saturday but couldn't bring the Hawks their first win. Lehner made 30 saves, but Mark Scheifele's one-timer 47 seconds into overtime gave the Jets a 3-2 victory, dropping the Hawks to 0-2-1.

Colliton's decision to make Lehner wait for his first start was understandable. Crawford has been the Hawks' starting goaltender since midway through the 2010-11 season and, despite suffering concussions each of the last two seasons that cost him considerable playing time, he is healthy.

During the preseason, Colliton said both goalies would play a lot. Even if Crawford had been exceptional against the Flyers and Jets, it's possible Lehner still would have started. But Crawford allowed nine goals in the first two games, not all of which were his fault, allowing Colliton to make a change without facing criticism.

The styles of Crawford and Lehner are strikingly different. While Crawford is smooth and technically superb, Lehner is in beast mode in the net. He moves across the goal mouth with a quickness that belies his 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. But it's still his size that helps keep the puck out of the net.

And his mouth.

Lehner is loud and proud patrolling the net, constantly shouting orders to his defenders. He's also not quiet in the locker room, as was evident before the game Saturday when he gave an honest opinion of what he saw from Hawks defenders playing in front of Crawford in the first two games.

"It's time to stop making excuses," Lehner said. "We've got to do our assignments, we've got to take care of the puck. We definitely have to tighten it up. We've got to start boxing out and playing a little bit more of a team game."

Lehner played a solid first period, after which the Hawks led 2-0 on goals from Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook. But the Jets put a power-play goal past him early in the second after Duncan Keith went off for slashing, then tied it with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left in the third after de Haan left Andrew Copp open in front of the net to take a pass from Kyle Connor and push it past Lehner into a wide open net.

Lehner's best save came late in the second, when Mark Scheifele was all alone near the front of the left faceoff circle. Lehner didn't commit to either side of the net, then closed up the five-hole and used his body to block Scheifele's shot.

For the first time this season, the defense looked as general manager Stan Bowman intended with de Haan, Keith, Seabrook, Erik Gustafsson, Connor Murphy and Olli Maatta on the back end. They helped accomplish what Lehner had hoped to see from the defense by not giving up many high-danger chances and using excellent stick play to frustrate one of the top offenses in the league.

De Haan was paired with Gustafsson, who can create offense but often struggles defensively. Asked to describe his style of play, de Haan didn't mince words.

"It's not the sexiest thing out there," he said. "Just try to keep it simple and defend hard and just try to be tough on the skilled guys on their team and just try and take time and space away. Be physical. It's not about crushing guys anymore and fighting but being tough in the corners and in front of the net. That's still fair game."