With a coaching change comes a fresh start for everyone. A clean slate.
Nick Schmaltz, in particular, is somebody the Blackhawks were counting on to take that next step in his development, especially in a contract year, and he has struggled to do so early on.
He entered Thursday with one goal, seven assists and 20 shots on goal in 14 games. He had three points in his past 11 games after having four points in his first three. Because of those inconsistencies, Schmaltz found himself sitting in the press box for one of the three games during their most recent road trip.
Schmaltz is a key piece to the Blackhawks puzzle this season, considering the majority of their scoring has come from three players: Patrick Kane (12 goals), Alex DeBrincat (8) and Jonathan Toews (8).
In his NHL head coaching debut against the Carolina Hurricanes, Jeremy Colliton was seen on the bench having several conversations with Schmaltz and even put his arm around him during an in-game second period conversation, showing the personal relationship Colliton is hoping to develop with each of his players. By doing so, the Blackhawks are hoping to unlock Schmaltz's full potential.
"We haven’t had much time with any of these guys, so any opportunity we have to get them some feedback, we’re going to take," Colliton said. "That’s how we’re going to going to speed up this process of learning what we have to do to have success. I thought he got better as the game went on, like a lot of our guys did."
The message Colliton gave Schmaltz? Don't focus too much on the production and simplify it by playing the right way, which, in turn, will lead to the desired results.
"Overall, not thinking too much out there," Schmaltz said of what came out of those discussions. "When you think too much and try to be perfect and be in the right place, then you get thinking too much and you mess up even more. So he just said don't think out there, play hockey. We know how to play hockey and we'll teach as we go."
That includes the defensive side of things. He was on the ice for a defensive breakdown as he and the team looks to get acclimated on the fly to the different style Colliton wants to play in their own end.
"We wanted more of a man-on-man," Schmaltz explained. "It’s an adjustment. We’re used to the zone, but that’s not an excuse. Just stick with your man, and then when there’s a time when there’s a loose puck you can create a battle, that’s when you go swarm them and out-man them 2-on-1 or 3-on-2, whatever it may be."
Schmaltz noticeably had a shoot-first mentality after that, finishing the game with four shot attempts (two on goal) and one of them going into the net. It was his second goal of the season and first at even strength.
"Hopefully he can use it as a springboard," Colliton said. "I'm not so concerned about what his production is. I want him to work away from the puck, I want him to skate, I want him to be aggressive, on his toes, use his speed to pressure the opposition and create turnovers and him and his linemates will have more offensive opportunities."
Opportunities will lead to scoring chances, and the more Schmaltz helps generate those, the more he'll see results on the scoresheet.