Exactly one week ago, the Blackhawks hit rock bottom after being routed by the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 for their ninth regulation loss of the season. They were sitting on only one win and were as mentally fragile a group as any in the NHL.
The Blackhawks were left with no choice but to overhaul their coaching staff, which is typically what happens when a team struggles so badly out of the gates. And the guys in the locker room took that personally.
Three games into the Derek King era and the Blackhawks look like a much more competitive team. They won their third straight contest on Friday after beating the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 and allowing only 23 shots on goal, which is their second-fewest in a game this season.
"I think everyone feels better," said Dylan Strome, whose first goal of the season turned out to be the game-winner. "As a team, we’re playing a little more loose, playing for each other a little bit more and I think it’s showing out there. Everyone’s having a lot of fun right now."
King's personality seems to be rubbing off on the players, but the interim head coach was careful not to take any credit. He's been through something like this before as a player and knows the kind of jump a team can get in the immediate aftermath of a shake-up.
"This is the players, it’s not me," King said. "These guys are a little upset. I’ve told you before, I’ve been a part of some coaches getting fired and you take that personal as a player and I think that’s what they’ve done. It makes me look good, but I’m not doing anything different than any other coach would. I’m coming in and just getting used to these guys, allowing them to fail but being accountable for it, and allowing them to just play hockey and relax."
The Blackhawks just look like a more relaxed group as a whole. And it's showing on the ice.
Against Pittsburgh, the Blackhawks squandered a two-goal lead but at no point did they feel a "here we go" kind of moment. They found a way to pull it out in a shootout. Against Arizona -- albeit a one-win team -- they allowed a game-tying goal early in the third period but scored the go-ahead goal and shut the door at the end.
A week ago, those two instances probably snowball into something worse. But the Blackhawks are starting to string together some wins and gain confidence from it.
"Winning a couple games will do that to you," Jonathan Toews said. "Overall, guys are just feeling much more relaxed. We're having fun and keeping practices short and high-paced and just going out there and trusting that we know what to do on the ice and just going to play in games."
When King was promoted to interim head coach, he wasn't looking to change things up systemically. That clearly wasn't the Blackhawks' issue. It was removing the weight off their shoulders and we're finally starting to see that happen.
"When I first got here you could just see how fragile they were," King said. "They’re enjoying it. It’s not pretty sometimes but that’s the game. They’re battling for each other, they’re playing hard, they’re trying. We’re getting some great goaltending and we’re just finding ways to win."