ELMONT, N.Y. — When Derek King took over as interim head coach on Nov. 6, priority No. 1 was getting the Blackhawks to loosen up.
"You could just see how fragile they were," King said.
The first phase is complete. The Blackhawks are a much more competitive and confident hockey team, improving to 8-4-0 under King following Sunday's 3-2 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
The next step is trying to get the offense going again, but there's one area that's gotten considerably better over the last month: the goaltending.
In the first 12 games under Jeremy Colliton, the Blackhawks had the worst team save percentage at even strength (.865) and third-worst save percentage in all situations (.872), according to Natural Stat Trick.
To break it down even further: Of the 70 goaltenders who had appeared in at least one game, Marc-Andre Fleury ranked 69th in goals saved above average at -7.64; Kevin Lankinen was 66th at -4.39.
Since King took over? The Blackhawks have the third-best team save percentage at even strength (.936) and fifth-best save percentage in all situations (.923). Fleury has started in eight of those 12 games and has a goals saved above average of 8.12 over that span, which ranks No. 4 out of 73 goaltenders.
Fleury was terrific yet again on Sunday, stopping 22 of 24 shots for a save percentage of .917 and turning aside all three shots in the shootout.
"Hats off obviously to Marc-Andre," King said. "Great game again. Especially in shootouts, he’s been doing a tremendous job."
After each win, the team belt is typically awarded to the player that made a key impact in the game. Sometimes it goes to an unsung hero. On Sunday, Seth Jones passed it to Fleury and the decision couldn't have been easier.
"That's why he's one of the best goalies in the league and in the entire NHL itself," Brandon Hagel said. "Obviously nice to have him back there. He definitely bailed us out in a lot of areas tonight. Pat on the back to him, that's for sure."
It was a tough start to the season for everyone, but especially for Fleury, who put so much pressure on himself to be great coming into a new organization. There were days where it became difficult to smile at the rink and that's saying something because nobody can light up a room more than Fleury.
But you better believe that's changed. Fleury is now 6-2-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and one shutout in his last eight starts and looks like one of the best goaltenders in the world again.
And as if there was any doubt, Fleury has certainly endeared himself to his new teammates.
"He's unbelievable," Dylan Strome said. "Vezina Trophy winner for a reason. Without him, we're not in a lot of these games. He's a heck of a goalie, probably Team Canada goalie I'd say. He's unbelievable, great guy in the locker room, too. You hear about it, guys coming to your team and hear how great of a guy he is and every word's been true. One of the best teammates I've ever had, for sure."