NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After two months laden with injuries, Taylor Hall hopes Saturday marks the beginning of a healthier second chapter within his first Blackhawks season.
“It has been a weird start to my year with being out for games three separate times,” Hall said. “But [I’m] just working through some things, trying to get better as the nights go on and trying to find a way to show what kind of player I am. Once I get [to] playing a few games in a row, I think I’ll be OK.”
The left leg/knee injury Hall suffered Nov. 9 at the Lightning initially looked a lot more severe than something that ultimately cost him only two games. In that sense, he is fortunate.
Still, the former league MVP has had very little opportunity so far to settle in a rhythm, given he also missed four games in October with a shoulder issue. He said he felt “pretty good” health-wise Saturday, just not quite in perfect “game form.”
Slotted on the second-line left wing next to Lukas Reichel, he logged 16:39 of ice time, during which he recorded five shots on goal — tied with Seth Jones for the team lead and his most in his first nine games as a Hawk.
“He’s strong on the puck,” coach Luke Richardson said. “He’s just going to get better. That was his first game back in, and we’ve seen that he continues to get stronger every game he plays.”
Johnson thankful for role
Back in training camp, depth forward Reese Johnson’s willingness to make an earnest pitch — to anyone who asked — why he should make the Hawks’ NHL roster was admirable.
The fact he shunned the usual cliches about controlling what one can control and actually described why he believed his on-ice improvement and impact on the team’s off-ice culture was valuable demonstrated his simultaneous confidence and lack of ego.
And so far, the Hawks’ roster decisions have indicated they agree with him. Not only is Johnson still here — and not only has he dressed in more than half the team’s games (eight of 15) — but when playing, his average ice time is actually up nearly a minute from last season (11:01 to 11:51).
“I’m definitely happy with being a Blackhawk still,” Johnson said Friday. “Every day in this league is a privilege, so I try to not get complacent.”
Physicality remains the main tenet of his game, but he has focused on using that physicality in more constructive ways — trying to force turnovers or create pressure on the forecheck — rather than simply racking up empty-calorie hits.
“It’s not always just running around and hammering guys,” he said. “That’s part of the game [for] maybe a shift or two here and there to swing the momentum. But…you want to have the puck and hold onto the puck. That’s honestly one thing I always want to get better at. To stay in the league for a long time with my role, that’s going to be a huge part.”
Former Hawks goalie Kevin Lankinen was stellar Saturday for the Predators, saving 29 of 31 shots to earn the win in his first game against the Hawks since they let him walk as a restricted free agent in summer 2022.
The affable Finn has thrived in general since becoming Juuse Saros’ backup in Nashville, albeit with a small workload. He boasts a .915 save percentage and plus-0.4 GSAA in 23 appearances since the start of last season.