Feb 122012

By Brad Gardner

Another serviceable effort from the Blackhawks resulted in no points as they dropped their eighth straight game, falling to the Coyotes by a score of 3-0. The ‘Hawks found themselves in an early hole and did not have any comebacks in them tonight against a 38-save shutout from red-hot goalie Mike Smith in the Phoenix net.

The Blackhawks faced an uphill battle early with Phoenix scoring two goals in the first six¬† minutes of the opening period. Radim Vrbata continued to light up the ‘Hawks, registering his 26th goal of the season and third against Chicago when his pass from behind the net deflected into the net off defenseman Sami Lepisto. Viktor Stalberg was unable to clear the puck from the defensive zone and Ray Whitney and Vrbata attacked with a give-and-go the other way. Vrbata used his speed to skate in behind and Lepisto was in an unfortunate position as Vrbata tried to get the puck back to the front of the net, deflecting in the opening goal at 3:14 of the first period.

Phoenix scored their second goal less than three minutes later when the puck found Boyd Gordon for an open chance. Dylan Olsen blocked the initial attempt from Adrian Aucoin, but was unable to recover the loose puck against the speed of Lauri Korpikoski. Olsen followed Korpikoski out to the faceoff dot and the ‘Hawks were caught with just one defenseman defending the front of the net against three Coyotes. Although Gilbert Brule’s one-timer off the pass from Korpikoski went wide, it turned into a perfect pass to Gordon with an open side of the net.

Chicago had the advantage on the shot counter in the middle frame, but still could not get the puck past Smith. Instead, Phoenix extended the lead on a rare error in what was otherwise a solid period from the ‘Hawks.

With the Coyotes breaking out of their own zone, Chipchura advanced the puck to Brule in the neutral zone and took off towards the Chicago net. Olsen could not recover against the hustle of Chipchura, who was breaking in wide open on Ray Emery when he received the pass back from Brule. The goal was Chipchura’s second of the season and made it a 3-0 Phoenix lead with 7:01 remaining in the second period.

The Blackhawks received an early power play in the third period when Olsen was tripped up by Vrbata in the corner. The lone shot was from Brent Seabrook on a crossing pass but it was caught by Smith who slid over quickly to cover the other post. The visitors again had the advantage in shots in the third period, out-chancing Phoenix 16 to 6 in the final twenty minutes, but Smith had an answer for each of them.

Game Notes:

– Part of the difference throughout the game was net presence – Chicago’s defensive breakdowns were made even worse by the presence of multiple Coyotes around Emery’s net. The ‘Hawks were unable to do the same thing at the other end of the ice, despite Smith giving up a few rebounds in the first period. The contrast was clearly visible midway through the third when Toews got open at the top of the crease for a great opportunity on a sweet feed from Kane. The captain got a good whack at the puck from point blank range, but then was quickly swallowed up by four Coyotes crashing to the defense of their goalie.

– The Blackhawks were 0-for-3 on the power play, leaving that unit without a conversion in 16 chances through the first six games of the road trip. All three Phoenix penalties were committed in their offensive zone but Chicago could not even build any momentum off the mistakes.

Ray Emery continues to give his team a chance to win, even if he was outplayed by Smith at the other end of the ice. None of the three goals could be blame on Emery. His positional play was strong as Phoenix had a lot of shots just happen to find a big piece of the Chicago netminder and Emery was able to limit second and third opportunities.

Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch with Brendan Morrison returning to the line-up. Morrison opened the game on the Toews line but only lasted a couple shifts and finished with less than nine minutes of ice time. Stalberg took over the left wing with Toews and Hossa through the first two periods before Quenneville reunited Sharp, Toews, and Kane in the third.

– On the blue line, Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepisto both skated for a second consecutive game, leaving John Scott and Niklas Hjalmarsson (flu) as the other scratches. Defenseman Steve Montador was put on injured reserve Friday with an upper body injury and will miss at least one more game before he is eligible to return to the roster.

Dylan Olsen finished a minus-2 but played another solid game. He got caught flat-footed in the neutral zone against the Chipchura breakaway but did a pretty good job making plays with the puck and providing a physical presence in the defensive zone. He was paired with Keith again for much of the game, but saw his minutes scaled back to 15:42 tonight.

Jeremy Roenick was inducted into the Coyotes Ring of Honor prior to the game. The Blackhawks players and coaches opted to watch the ceremony from the bench.

– The ‘Hawks will skate again Tuesday in Nashville, the fourth match-up of the season against the Predators. Nashville leads Chicago by five points in the standings and won the last two meetings of the series in sweeping the home-and-home series before the All-Star break.

Brad Gardner

In addition to covering the Blackhawks for TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.

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