The Derek King era has gotten off to a regal start.
The Chicago Blackhawks, mired in a decade-old, sexual abuse scandal and off to a 1-9-2 start, fired coach Jeremy Colliton and replaced him with King, who had been coaching their American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford, Ill.
So far, the Blackhawks have won all three of their games under King.
While they’ve still got a long way to go, they’ve at least moved past the expansion Seattle Kraken, their opponent Wednesday night at Climate Pledge Arena, in the Western Conference standings.
“When I first got here, you could just see how fragile they were,” King said. “But they’re enjoying it. It’s not pretty sometimes, but that’s the game. They’re battling for each other, playing hard (and) we’re just finding ways to win.”
The Blackhawks won King’s debut 2-1 in overtime against Nashville on Nov. 7, beat Pittsburgh 3-2 in a shootout two nights later and topped Arizona 2-1 in regulation Friday night as Dylan Strome scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period.
Alex DeBrincat also scored for Chicago, Patrick Kane had two assists and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 22 shots.
“We were all pretty embarrassed by what was going on,” Strome said of the Blackhawks’ early struggles. “Tied for last place in the league wasn’t acceptable. I think it’s just a little rejuvenation. The guys are playing for each other. The bench is up and everyone’s talking and the crowd’s into it. I think we’re playing for each other now.”
Kane said King, who played 14 seasons in the NHL, immediately had credibility with the players.
“He obviously was an effective player,” Kane said. “When you see that and know that he played in the NHL for a long time, I think that respect comes right away.”
Added teammate Riley Stillman: “You want to win for a guy like that. We want to play our hearts out for him. And I think that’s what we’ve shown in the last two weeks.”
Captain Jonathan Toews said the mood in the dressing room has improved.
“Winning a couple games will do that to you,” Toews said. “Just overall, guys feel more relaxed, having fun … Just going out there that we know what to do on the ice and just play the games.”
The Kraken have lost four straight games and six of their past seven to drop into the Pacific Division cellar.
They suffered a 4-2 loss Saturday at home to Minnesota as Rem Pitlick, picked up by the Wild off waivers last month, scored his first three goals — two on breakaways.
“What I think happened (Saturday) was I think we forced it a bit. Myself, it starts with me,” said Kraken captain Mark Giordano, a former Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman. “You can’t have a turnover that leads to breakaways, and it happened twice to us (Saturday).
“When the game is tight and it’s 1-0 and nothing is happening offensively, you got a chess match. You gotta be smart about where you turn over the puck, how you manage the puck, and it stung us for sure.”
Marcus Johansson had a power-play goal for Seattle, and Alex Wennberg also tallied.
“There’s a ton of emotion for our players. They’re working hard,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “A couple of spots (Saturday) we pressed a little bit too hard and it cost us. I won’t fault our guys’ effort in any way, shape or form.”
–Field Level Media