New city. New teammates. New coach. New fans. And last but not least, new side of the ice.
Connor Murphy has had to process a lot since joining the Blackhawks in a June trade with Arizona, but the defenseman is starting to feel like he belongs in Chicago — and on a team that always has championship aspirations.
Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena, 6 p.m.
Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: The Hawks seem to keep catching teams when they are red hot, and that’s certainly the case with the Capitals, who are 5-1-0 since their pedestrian 11-10-1 start to the season. Alex Ovechkin has 7 goals in the last six games and 20 overall, which leads the league. He’s on pace for 62 scores, which is just 3 shy of his career high, set in 2007-08. … Former Blues forward T.J. Oshie (10) is the only other Washington player with double-digit goals. … Washington ranks 21st on the penalty kill (78.0 percent), so this could be a good time for the Hawks’ struggling power play (1-for-17 last four) to get untracked. … With Corey Crawford on IR, Anton Forsberg gets his third straight start in net for the Hawks.
Next: Buffalo Sabres at United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday
— John Dietz
“At first you’re a newbie,” Murphy said. “It takes a little bit for guys to get comfortable with you and for you to gain friendships. It progresses over the course of the year.”
Fans will never forget — and rightfully so — how Niklas Hjalmarsson sacrificed every part of his body during eight seasons with the Hawks.
Murphy, however, is the man general manager Stan Bowman sought. At 24, Murphy is six years younger than Hjalmarsson and also brings two more years of cost certainty for a squad that always has salary-cap issues.
Murphy said it definitely took time to adjust to the different surroundings … and expectations. After all, the Coyotes won just 89 of 246 games the past three seasons, while the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup in 2015 and continued to be a force in the Western Conference.
Said Murphy: “Being on the ice with good ‘D’ men and top forwards, it definitely brings a fun challenge to play up to that level.”
Early on, that level wasn’t good enough. Murphy was benched in three of the first 12 games.
Soon after that last healthy scratch in Colorado on Oct. 28, coach Joel Quenneville decided to test Murphy by putting him on the left side.
After a practice last month, Murphy admitted he had no idea how this experiment would go. After all, the right-handed D-man had never — as in NEVER — played on his off side, and now he was being asked to do this with little time to prepare.
What could go wrong?
Plenty, of course, but that hasn’t been the case as Murphy is excelling while playing with veteran Brent Seabrook.
“If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year or last year, I would have said I couldn’t play on the left side,” said Murphy, who has 3 assists in the past five games. “There are odd times when you play on the right, and you get stuck on the left if your shift gets messed up. You just feel weird.
“But once you know it’s your position, it’s OK and you just adapt.”
Said Quenneville: “Seabs has picked up his game, too. It’s been a good situation for him and for us. Sometimes you never know until you play it, but I thought he’s been effective over there.”
Murphy said he has found that forwards have a difficult time reading the odd backhand pass when they’re forechecking, and he also has been able to take more shots in the offensive zone.
In the defensive zone, he likes how his stick and body are in position to push guys up against the wall.
Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford are just a few of the Hawks who have helped Murphy’s transition go as smoothly as possible.
They’ve also done something Murphy still dreams about: hoisting the Stanley Cup. What shocked him about those veterans, though, is how humble they remain.
“You almost forget that these guys have won Stanley Cups because they don’t talk in a bragging way,” Murphy said. “For me being a younger guy … sometimes you feel like you’re not worthy of their attention just because they’re at such an elite level.
“I was asking them questions about winning the Cup and how amazing that must have been, and they do talk about it and say how great it was.”
Murphy then added with a smile and a laugh, “but I’d be bragging to everyone I saw if I won the Stanley Cup. I’d be wearing my rings around every day.”
Because that’s a feeling that would certainly never get old.
• Twitter @johndietzdh