When a new coach walks into the locker room, it's a clean slate for everyone. The players who established trust with the previous staff must re-establish that with the new staff and the players who found themselves on the outside looking in get a new lease on life.
Perhaps no player welcomed the fresh start more than Dylan Strome. He was a healthy scratch seven times in the first 11 games but has played in all three contests under interim head coach Derek King.
"I think he likes me as a player and the way I try to control the puck and emphasizes being above it, getting back and winning those puck battles," Strome said. "Our team's focus is still be good defensively and create offense that way. He seems like a nice guy. Obviously played for a long time, so he's got the hockey mind. It's good to have him here."
Strome was one of the first players King talked to during his first morning skate with the team.
"He’s a good player, he makes things happen," King said. "It’s a trust factor: They have to trust me and I have to trust them. He’s got a lot to offer, Stromer. I think the big thing with a player like that where you’ve got high-end skill, you’ve just for to work and you’ve got to get them working a little bit. Not that he doesn’t work but you’ve got to work a little smarter. Again, it’s that trust thing between a coach and a player and we’ll get there."
That trust factor is starting to build. Strome committed a double-minor high-sticking penalty in the second period of Friday's 2-1 win over Arizona, but rather than stapling him to the bench, King gave Strome an opportunity to play on the first line and top power-play unit when Kirby Dach was in the locker room getting medical attention.
The result? A game-winning goal for Strome, who scored his first of the season.
"It was a big goal," King said. "I’m happy for him. It’s maybe something that gets him over the edge now and realize he can play the game he just needs to play the game right all the time. The fact that he took that penalty, the reach and the lifting the stick, not happy about it, but the fact he gets on that power play and scores, I was very happy."
Caleb Jones inching closer
Caleb Jones (wrist) took the next step in his recovery process by joining the team for morning skate on Friday. He also practiced with the team in full on Saturday, which is a sign he's getting closer to returning to action. He was one of the standouts at training camp and the Blackhawks are itching to get him into the lineup.
"He's closer, that's for sure," King said. "We'll reassess Monday and see where he's at. I'm not sure if he'll go on the trip or not, but if we get the green light where he might play one of those games, he's going to come because I think he's going to be a big help to us. He looks good skating, so that's a positive."
Tyler Johnson ramping back up
It's been more than two weeks since Johnson was last seen on the ice. He suffered a neck injury on Oct. 29 against Carolina and then was placed in COVID-19 protocol.
He didn't practice on Saturday, but it sounds like he will join the team for the upcoming four-game road trip and perhaps play at some point during the Canadian swing.
"He had a little off day but nothing serious," King said. "He's gradually getting better as we go. Come Monday I'll know more. It might not be Seattle, it might not be [Edmonton]. It may be one of the last two, or even the last one. But that's gonna be up to the docs when I talk to them on Monday."
Jonathan Toews still searching for first goal
Toews was hard on himself after Friday's win over Arizona. Even though he has eight assists and has won more than 60 percent of his faceoffs, which would be a new career-high in a single season, he's not thrilled with the fact he hasn't scored in 15 straight games now.
"It doesn't bother me," Toews said. "But I'd like to do something about it one of these days here."
King thought Chicago's captain was being too critical of his own performance. He impacts the game in so many other ways, even if he's not scoring.
"I didn't think his performance was as bad as he thought it was," King said. "When you log a lot of ice time, you're going to make mistakes. It's automatic. Was he to the point where I was like, 'I can't play him anymore?' No. He played a lot of minutes and I thought he had a good game.
"He puts a lot of pressure on himself. He has high standards. There's a reason why he's won those Cups and he's been on Team Canadas and World Juniors and he's the captain of your team. He's a very focused guy. I had a good chat with him on the ice. I wish I was like that when I played. I might have had a couple more extra goals here. But he's fine. Guys are working hard and playing hard. I have no issues."