The Blackhawks spent a lot of time over the first five months of the season talking about the various — and often endless — things that needed to be fixed.
The transition offense.
The power play.
The home record.
The defensive-zone coverage.
The salary-cap situation.
Screening the goalie.
On and on and on.
But lately, they’ve tried to also allot some time to discussing what they do well. Sure, it’s not as productive — but it is mentally refreshing, and it likely will improve productivity in the long run.
“In life, anything, if you’re thinking about things that you’re doing good, [it’s helpful],” center Dylan Strome said Thursday. “Obviously, we’ve got to correct some things, but if you can think positively, your mental state is a little bit better, and it just works out better for everyone. No one likes being negative all the time.”
The Hawks, despite their sub-.500 record, indeed have plenty going for them. They’ve received excellent goaltending all year — first from Robin Lehner and lately from Corey Crawford. They still have two of modern hockey’s greats in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They’ve overcome some demoralizing losing streaks to remain within arm’s length of playoff contention entering the final month of the regular season.
Even tactically — an often-criticized area, considering how this undeniably talented and experienced group has failed to live up to expectations — there are bright spots.
Coach Jeremy Colliton listed some Thursday.
“When we’re good, we get tremendous back-pressure from our forwards, [and that] allows us to get pucks back and create a transition game, be able to play in the offensive zone more,” he said. “We put our skill guys in good situations where they can create offense. Again, when we’re good defensively, we’re closing on the puck carrier and getting stops on our half of the rink.”
Internally, Colliton has apparently been mentioning those things more frequently after sensing the locker room morale slipping at the end of a travel- and loss-heavy February.
“That’s what makes coaches good,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “There are times where, if you’re losing and guys are down, and they can tell that our effort is there, then they’ll do things to reassure us and give us that boost of confidence.”
Murphy admitted the Hawks, despite their best efforts, have felt the mood swings that go with their performance swings. It’s impossible not to in a league like the NHL, in a city like Chicago, in a situation like the one this post-but-not-too-post-dynasty franchise finds itself in.
So, after the departures of Lehner and Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline and a meltdown loss in St. Louis — a time when the Hawks found themselves at perhaps their lowest point yet — they held some meetings to refocus, winger Alex Nylander said.
In the week since, there has been a more intentional campaign to keep positivity up.
“Every week or every couple of games seems to bring something a little different with the feeling of the team,” Murphy said. “Sometimes the results of the game [aren’t] a complete vision of how you’re playing.”
The locker room has been noticeably more cheerful, and players have been noticeably more lighthearted in interviews. The recent win streak has certainly contributed, but so, too, has this new mental exercise.
“That’s part of teaching and trying to get better all the time,” Colliton said. “We’ve got to build on what we have improved on and remind the group why we’re good.”