Blackhawks: 4 Things Coach King Is Doing Differently

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently on a three-game winning streak, which is two games more than former head coach Jeremy Colliton managed in the 12 contests when he was in charge. As we all know, all the early losses prompted a coaching change. Interim head coach Derek King isn’t willing to take much credit for the Blackhawks turn of fortunes. He attributes things to the players feeling responsible for the firing, claiming they’re just naturally buckling down and playing for each other.

That may well be true, but King has indeed made an impact is his short time as the Blackhawks’ new bench boss. Here are four things he’s doing differently to attribute to the Blackhawks’ recent success.

Keeping It Light

This is the first thing Coach King stressed when he joined the team. He didn’t come in and overhaul the system. Heck, he’s deferred mostly to assistant coach Marc Crawford to lead practices and pre-scout the opponent. But he did come in with a message: just relax. “I want these guys to feel relaxed. They’re tight. It’s just time to go back to playing some good, solid, hard hockey,” said King. He’s encouraged them to just go back to the basics and not overthink things.

Sometimes a change in mentality can do wonders, and it seems to be doing just that for the Blackhawks. Defenseman Riley Stillman spoke about his new coach and the attitude shift he’s trying to instill.

In other words, King’s style is something these guys can relate to. He’s a breathe of fresh air, and this change of pace was desperately needed.

Re-Uniting DeBrincat & Kane; Kubalik & Toews

This seems like a no-brainer, but it eluded Colliton as he attempted to seek balance in his lineup. When the season started, Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane were on a line together, as were Dominik Kubalik and Jonathan Toews. Both duos have had success in the past. But as the team kept losing, Colliton went to the lineblender and separated both pairs. It turns out that wasn’t the answer.

When King stepped in, he wanted to optimize the forward lines as best he could. So he immediately re-united DeBrincat with Kane, and Kubalik with Toews. Let’s look at how these partnerships have fared together in the last three games.

DeBrincat and Kane

These two have natural chemistry, as can easily be seen when they play on the power play together. Each knows where the other is and how to play off each other. In the Nashville Predators’ game, it was the heroics of Kane to DeBrincat that won the game in overtime. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, DeBrincat provided the secondary assist and Kane the primary assist on Seth Jones’ first goal of the season. Finally, these two combined for arguably the prettiest goal of the season versus the Arizona Coyotes.

With the way DeBrincat and Kane can make things happen on the ice, it makes tons of sense to play them together.

Kubalik and Toews

It might not be as easy to argue the same for Kubalik and Toews. After all, Toews hasn’t scored a goal yet this season, and Kubalik hasn’t found the back of the net in the last nine games. Both are visibly frustrated. But Toews is also currently third on the team with eight assists. Kubalik boasts three goals and four assists. They’re both dynamic top-six playmakers that complement each other. Against the Penguins, they combined for the assists on Jujhar Khaira’s first goal of season.

Toews and Kubalik were on the ice for Brandon Hagel’s goal against the Predators, with Toews picking up a helper on the play. Kubalik had a team-high six shots on goal in this contest. The point is these two are doing a lot of good things on the ice together. They simply have to keep up the good work, and the goals and points will come.

Giving Strome a Chance to Succeed

If you watch our Blackhawks Banter show or read our articles on a regular basis, you know this has been a huge bone of contention for our THW Blackhawks’ writing crew for a while now. Dylan Strome was always in Colliton’s doghouse, mainly because he didn’t like his play away from the puck.

Related – Blackhawks Bytes: Coach King, Carpenter, Fleury & More

But when Strome does have the puck, he’s pretty good at making plays and scoring goals. He also plays best in the center position. But Colliton had other ideas. In the first 12 games under Colliton, Strome suited up for five games and registered one assist. He played on the fourth line with defensive grinders, and mostly on the wing. Not exactly a recipe for success.

When King took over, he decided to take a different approach with Strome. He deployed him as the third line center and extended his leash a little bit. Things didn’t pay off right away. In his first two games under King, Strome didn’t even register a shot on goal. But he worked hard and earned his coache’s trust. Against the Coyotes, Kirby Dach took a hit and missed a few shifts in the third period. In his stead, King put Strome out on the top power play unit. Wouldn’t you know it, it paid off in the game-winning-goal.

It must have been a huge relief for Strome to finally find the back of the net and help out the team. I’m sure he sees this as a new lease on life for himself as a successful player with the Blackhawks. He said as much after the game.

Again, this speaks to King seeing things a little differently, and building confidence among his players.

Leaning on Jones & Murphy

One final tweak I noted on the transition from Colliton to King is King’s usage of the Blackhawks’ defensive players. He’s been giving more minutes to Seth Jones and Connor Murphy, while limiting the play of Erik Gustafsson, and to a lesser extent, Stillman.

In the last three games Jones has averaged just under 27 minutes a game, and he’s contributed two assists along with his first goal of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murphy has averaged just under 26 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Gustafsson’s time has been limited to an average of 9:28 minutes, and Stillman to 15 minutes.

Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks
Seth Jones is finally coming into his own with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sure, Jones and Murphy are the Blackhawks’ top two defensemen, so of course they will play more. But since he’s taken over, King has tasked these two players with stepping up even more. They’ve responded in kind. These recent wins have been one-goal victories, so their contributions may have been part of what put the team over the hump.

It might not be sustainable over the long haul, but King wasn’t afraid to go for the gusto. Instead of searching for that balance like former coach Colliton was doing, he went for it. In the short term, it was the right thing to do.

Related – Blackhawks Banter: King, Gaudette, Reichel, Strome

In the long term, defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk has suited up for a few games with the Rockford IceHogs since recovering from his ankle injury. He should be re-joining the Blackhawks soon. And Caleb Jones (wrist injury) isn’t too far behind him. Hopefully these reinforcements will continue to help the Blackhawks’ defense moving forward.

All in all, Coach King has been nothing but a positive influence on this Blackhawks’ team. They have three wins under their belt with this new regime. Can they keep up the good work? The proof is in the pudding, but they certainly are off to a good start with King at the helm.

Sign up for our regular 'Blackhawks Newsletter' for all the latest.