WASHINGTON — The Blackhawks look like a competitive, cohesive hockey team more and more each day.
A gutsy 4-3 shootout win Thursday against the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals was the latest milestone of progress in the Hawks’ general surge under interim coach Derek King.
Seth Jones’ game-tying snipe with 8:04 left in regulation, countless Capitals post hits next to — but not behind — Marc-Andre Fleury and Patrick Kane’s shootout goal helped the Hawks earn their first win in Washington since January 2006.
For the first time since April 12, the Hawks have gone three straight games with as many or more shots on goal than their opponents. For the first time since March 5, they’ve won seven times in a 10-game span. And for the first time in a long time, they look like a team that can not only find an identity — right now as a surprisingly grinding defensive team — but develop it.
“It’s no secret we didn’t start the season the way we wanted, so we have climbing to do,” Jones said. “Every night we need to put together a good performance and give ourselves a chance to win, [to] keep getting points. We’re just improving as a team on staying consistent in the way we want to play the game and making it easy on ourselves.”
King’s significant, if slight, manipulations to the Hawks’ roster and strategy continue to translate into results, too.
Clad in a striking plaid suit — a “distraction for their team,” he joked — his subtle, almost gentle approach to coaching genuinely seems to work.
The Josiah Slavin call-up looked instantly brilliant. With his parents, wife, trainer and sister-in-law in attendance for his NHL debut, he was one of the Hawks’ most noticeable players and earned a deserved point on Jones’ goal.
Connor Murphy left in the second period looking woozy after an Alex Ovechkin hit and didn’t return. That’s a concern for the Hawks, but King and associate coach Marc Crawford smoothly managed the ice time with five defensemen the rest of the way.
Jonathan Toews still doesn’t have a goal this year, and the universe’s apparent conspiracy to keep him out of the net is becoming laughable. He hit the post in the first period and was robbed by Capitals goalie Vitek Vanacek on a gaping net in the second.
But at least Dominik Kubalik’s 15-game goal drought — which he called “frustrating” after the morning skate — ended, and at the same time as the Hawks’ 1-for-30 power-play drought. Kubalik took a pass from Alex DeBrincat and roofed it, putting the Hawks briefly ahead 2-1, before celebrating with understandable vigor.
“It’s patience,” King said. “You’ve just got to let them get through it, and now hopefully that snowballs into more goals from him. And Jonathan’s playing good hockey on both ends, and he’s just snakebitten. That’s all it is. He’ll get his, then he’ll just start snowballing, too. Hopefully by the end of December, we’ll be buzzing.”
And King’s massive power-play shakeup that first debuted in practice Wednesday, itself sparked by Toews’ request to move out of the bumper slot, also paid immediate dividends.
The first unit of Toews, Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson produced two golden chances before seamlessly transitioning to the second unit of Kubalik, DeBrincat, Brandon Hagel, Henrik Borgstrom and Jones, which converted.
“[The power play has] been struggling for a while,” Jones said. “We haven’t changed it; we’ve stuck with it. And we needed a change. We needed a different look. I like our units now. Obviously, we want to stick with it a few more games and see how it goes, but it was a great job tonight. We moved it pretty well against their PK, ended up scoring one on the rush.”