Blackhawks have learned to trust each other: ‘The feeling is a lot different’

As the Hawks’ in-season turnaround continues, they’ve learned to trust their teammates will do their jobs correctly.

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The Blackhawks’ team unity has increased over the course of the season so far.

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The Blackhawks can sense the trust growing within their ranks.

They’re trusting each other to do what they’re supposed to do. And that approach is, on the whole, uniting and improving their team game.

“We worked pretty hard to get through what we went through at the start of the year,” captain Jonathan Toews said Tuesday. “The way we [played] the first 10 games, it’s hard to find that trust, to cultivate that belief in the team. We’ve come a long way from being in that hole. 

“Obviously, we’re not out of it yet, but the feeling is a lot different. That’s the No. 1 thing: There’s that trust, and there’s that belief, and we’re having fun.”

Defensively, the Hawks are no longer double-teaming the puck-carrier — and leaving someone else open — because they don’t believe one man will be enough to cover him. Offensively, they’re no longer pinching recklessly or getting sucked into one area — and opening windows for odd-man counterattacks — because they don’t believe one man can keep possession. 

And in all circumstances, they’re supporting each other, physically and emotionally. That atmosphere is raising their collective confidence.

“We all talk a lot on the ice, on the bench, and we trust each other, too,” defenseman Erik Gustafsson said recently. “We don’t go over and try to help each player. . . . We trust that he’s doing his job. And it’s been working out pretty well.”

The Hawks’ possible lack of unity was a frequent talking point during the bleak times in October. With so many new players to integrate, a feeling-out process was inevitable, but that didn’t explain how long it took.

When the Hawks fell to 0-5-1 on Oct. 24, Toews admitted they hadn’t done enough at the time to “commit to each other.” Defenseman Seth Jones called the team’s woes “a locker-room thing,” saying they needed to “find a way to get on the same page and have a common goal.”

Fortunately, that subject now feels like the distant past. Interim coach Derek King’s friendly, relaxed, camaraderie-inducing style surely has helped. Toews slowly regaining his voice and leadership has helped, too. But it has been a 20-man effort, from star to depth players. 

“We got guys like Toews, [Patrick] Kane and [others] who are used to putting up numbers and an abundance of them,” King said Sunday. “And they’re buying into sliding pucks deep, getting pucks behind [our opponents], and when the chance comes, they’ll make their plays. And if it goes in, it goes in. If not, they’re OK.”

That might be a generous description of Toews’ attitude. His zero goals in his first 24 games this season (entering Tuesday), by far the longest drought of his career, is weighing heavily on him and has been for a long time now. 

But Toews does see the Hawks’ rising tide lifting all ships around him. And he knows — even though it’s “not really in my nature to be patient” — that he’s part of that, and that it will ultimately carry him to where he wants to be.

“We’re starting to settle in as a team,” he said. “Our offensive game as a team is just going to get better and better once we just feel a little bit more confident that we’re getting out of our zone better, we’re getting pucks deep in the offensive zone, we’re getting more possession, we’re getting more shots from the point, we’re getting more pucks back. 

“Once we’re working for stuff like that, eventually every time you touch the puck, you’re a little bit more relaxed. You feel like you can take an extra second to make a creative play and not be afraid to make a mistake every time you touch it. . . . [And the] more plays I make, eventually the goals are going to go in.”

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