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Interim coach Derek King’s message getting through to Blackhawks

The offense isn’t scoring a lot at 5-on-5, and the standings still look grim, but the Hawks are getting some wins and at least developing some kind of identity under King.

The Blackhawks are 6-2-0 under interim coach Derek King.
AP Photos

After the dismissal of Jeremy Colliton, Derek King walked into a challenging situation when he was named the Blackhawks’ interim coach. Instead of working mostly with prospects as he was in Rockford, King was asked to help clean up a mess and coach highly paid stars with big names.

At least for now, the returns have been positive.

The Hawks are 6-2-0 since King replaced Colliton. The offense isn’t scoring a lot at five-on-five, and the standings still look grim, but the Hawks are getting victories and developing some kind of identity.

“I think he’s done a pretty good job at getting this team together and making us stay positive even when things are going wrong,” forward Brandon Hagel said.

“We’re in games. Sometimes we may not or we shouldn’t be in the game because of the way we’re playing, but he finds a way to keep us up. The goalies are giving us saves, and that’s something we need.

“He keeps us in check. He lets us know when we’re wrong and lets us know when we need to wake up, and I think that’s what you need. The team’s been responding pretty well.”

The latest example came on Friday, when the Hawks fell behind by two goals against the Blues. Instead of letting the game turn into a runaway, the Hawks chipped away at St. Louis and won 3-2 in overtime.

In having to come back, the Hawks didn’t play the complete game they wanted to, but the team showed some progress.

“I think that early in the season, it was a struggle for us,” forward Mike Hardman said. “We’d be up in a game and lose the lead, and now I think we’re starting to come together later in the game and just having confidence with our teammates and just little stuff that can help us win a full 60-minute game.”

Having played for King earlier in the season at Rockford, Hardman had some idea of what to expect. Hardman said King is the kind of person you can talk to about anything, which makes players more comfortable.

He also said he was excited when King became the new coach.

“I think all the guys here have really started to like him,” Hardman said. “I think we’re back on track to where we want to be on the ice, as well.”

That might be true, but it’s clear King’s work is far from complete.

The Hawks still need to get more offensive production. And unlike during his time with the IceHogs, King has to monitor such proud players as Jonathan Toews, who got a maintenance day and missed the quick practice Saturday.

King said he needs to pull back Toews, who would “go on that ice with broken legs and arms, and he’ll just keep going until somebody will come to him.”

“He’s playing lots of minutes, probably more than he’s used to of late,” King said. “I need to just kind of put the kibosh on him going out on the ice.”

NOTES: Put on waivers Friday, forward Adam Gaudette was claimed by the Senators. Acquired from the Canucks in April for forward Matthew Highmore, Gaudette had one goal and one assist in eight games and hadn’t played since Nov. 9.

Derek King said forward Tyler Johnson, who was put on long-term injured reserve Nov. 17 (retroactive to Oct. 29) because of neck soreness, is “not as far ahead” as the Hawks thought. Johnson skated Thursday but didn’t practice Saturday.