Blackhawks use team meeting as springboard to success

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks left wing Brandon Hagel celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at the United Center. Since a team meeting after a sixth straight loss Jan. 6, the Blackhawks have been on a four-game winning streak.

    Blackhawks left wing Brandon Hagel celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at the United Center. Since a team meeting after a sixth straight loss Jan. 6, the Blackhawks have been on a four-game winning streak. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/16/2022 5:32 PM

When Blackhawks coach Derek King played in the NHL in the 1980s and '90s, coaches would rarely enter the dressing room after a game.

The players were left to celebrate a victory, discuss a tough setback or have honest, frank conversations if things were really getting out of hand.

 

"(Coaches) let the players manage the room and that's what we did," said King, who played for two of the best leaders of all time in the Islanders' Al Arbour and Maple Leafs' Pat Quinn. "There were a lot of closed-door meetings -- a lot of chats about where we are in the standings and how did we play."

It's much different these days, but there are times when players shut the door and talk among themselves. Such was the case after the Hawks' 6-4 loss at Arizona on Jan. 6. What looked like an easy victory turned into a demoralizing defeat -- the sixth straight for King's squad.

At that point, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Seth Jones and others circled the wagons and implored everyone to stick together.

And guess what? It worked.

Two nights later the Hawks upset Vegas 2-1. Then they beat Columbus 4-2 despite losing Jones and Jake McCabe to COVID protocol. Then came victories over Montreal and Anaheim, with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome also going into COVID protocol.

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Clearly, that meeting struck a chord.

"You look around the room -- Toews, Kaner, Seth Jones -- guys who've been around the league (and) they have a lot of hockey knowledge," said forward MacKenzie Entwistle. "They've won Cups (and are) future Hall of Famers. It's nice as a younger guy hearing what they (have) to say. ...

"That team meeting was just more of, 'This is what we (have) to do. We can't get frustrated here and (let's) stick together.'"

So relax and take a breath. That was the gist of Toews' message.

It's important to acknowledge that, other than the win over Vegas, the other three victories came against struggling and/or erratic teams. Still, it's a nice run and one that could easily be extended to five games with a victory over expansion Seattle on Monday.

The coaching staff has to love the fact that everyone -- from Kane to Toews to the 20th guy on the roster -- has picked up their game and is contributing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Let's start with Calvin de Haan, the veteran defenseman who has teamed up with Connor Murphy to shut down opponents' top players. De Haan, who was averaging 1.8 blocked shots per game before this winning streak, has blocked 17 the last four games. He also scored in the second period at Columbus to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.

• Then there's Riley Stillman, another stay-at-home defenseman who has found another gear. The 23-year-old, who still only has 82 NHL games under his belt, scored the game-winning goal in Vegas and is riding a five-game point streak. He also saved a goal against the Ducks only moments before Brandon Hagel opened the scoring in the second period.

• Erik Gustafsson notched the primary assist on Kane's game-tying goal against Montreal, as well as the secondary assist on Hagel's OT winner. Gustafsson will always be an erratic D-man, but there's no denying how much his playmaking skills can help this offensively challenged squad.

• Jakub Galvas, a fifth-round pick in 2017, shocked everyone -- including King -- by playing nearly 24 impressive minutes in his NHL debut at Columbus. Then came his goal-saving sweep against the Ducks on Saturday. With the puck sliding across the goal line early in the second period, Galvas arrived in the nick of time to keep Anaheim from grabbing a 1-0 lead. Fifteen seconds later, Hagel opened the scoring off a perfect feed from Gustafsson.

• Let's not ignore the forwards, especially Philipp Kurashev and Ryan Carpenter. Kurashev has looked more determined, is getting to pucks faster and playing a better overall game over the last couple of weeks. He has 3 goals and 3 assists the last 12 games. The defensive-minded Carpenter is quietly having a nice campaign and is winning a career-best 52.8% of his draws.

• Lukas Reichel looked very solid during his two-game tryout, opening up space for his linemates by pushing the defense back with his speed and puck-handling skills. The future is indeed bright for the 17th overall pick of the 2020 draft, who was reassigned to Rockford on Sunday.

Those unsung heroes have been fantastic, but it wouldn't mean much if the Hawks weren't getting stellar play in net. Marc-Andre Fleury's been sensational the last four games, turning away 118 of 123 shots for a .959 save percentage.

Add it all up and there's some reason for optimism going forward. The key is to keep it up because the schedule gets awfully difficult after Monday's tilt with the Kraken.

"We're coming in the right direction," Stillman said. "The guys believe in ourselves and believe in one another. After that (Arizona) game something sort of clicked for us.

"We've to keep this momentum going into the next couple of games coming up here."

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