The Chicago Blackhawks may have hoped to go into the Olympic break with a roar, but instead they went out with a whimper as they were shutout by Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes in a 2-0 defeat on Friday night in the desert.
Keith Yandle scored just 69 seconds into the game, and Radim Vrbata scored a power play goal in the second period to give the Coyotes all the goals they needed. Corey Crawford did make 24 saves in the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Hawks dropped the last game of a six-game pre-Olympic road trip, while the Coyotes climbed back into 8th place in the Western Conference standings.
The game got off to a horrid start for the Blackhawks, as Brandon Bollig was tagged with a penalty after he tripped Shane Doan in the opening seconds of the game. In the blink of an eye, the Coyotes took the lead. Antoine Vermette won the face-off, and the puck worked its way over to Yandle at the point. Taking advantage of traffic in front of the goal, he unleashed a wicked slap shot that eluded Crawford, and just like that the Coyotes went up 1-0.
Just over a minute later, the Blackhawks went on the penalty kill again after Bryan Bickell was sent to the box for illegally picking up Niklas Hjalmarsson’s broken stick, but this time the kill did a much better job. Jonathan Toews and Marcus Kruger were all over the ice during the kill, and their pressure really prevented the Coyotes from getting any quality chances.
Despite that successful work, the Blackhawks still took a while to get going on offense. They did get a decent chance early on as Kris Versteeg skated through the slot and fired a wrister at Smith, but the Coyotes’ goaltender was able to shoulder shrug the puck away, and his teammates cleared the crease before the Hawks could get at the rebound.
In the closing minutes of the period, the game got a lot chippier, with both teams seeking to gain the physical edge. That area of the game is one that the Coyotes thrive in however, and because of that, the Blackhawks weren’t able to get many good chances to tie things up as the contest stayed 1-0 through the first period.
The Hawks did come out with a lot more aggression on offense in the early stages of the second period, and they got an early power play as a result. Unfortunately for them, they seemed to be missing the precise passing that they have shown in recent weeks on the man-advantage, and as a result they weren’t able to pot any goals past Smith.
After that unsuccessful power play, the game resumed its chippy nature, and the Coyotes’ defense took full advantage, preventing the Hawks from getting many quality scoring chances. Even when Chicago was able to get pressure on Smith, the chances were one-off affairs with no rebounds really coming out for the Hawks to poke away at.
Late in the second period, the Coyotes were given a 5-on-3 power play as Brandon Saad ran into Smith, and Michal Rozsival picked up an additional minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Once again, it was a shot from the point aided by traffic in front that did the Hawks in. With Mike Ribeiro dishing a feed out to Vrbata just inside the blue line, the former Blackhawk was able to fire a shot past Crawford to make it 2-0 with a minute and a half remaining in the second.
As the third period got underway, the Coyotes clearly pulled back a bit, and even though the Hawks were able to push the tempo more, the goals simply never materialized. The Hawks got two different power plays in the period, but the puck movement wasn’t good enough as the Coyotes maintained good defensive position in preventing the Hawks from getting back in the game.
The Blackhawks will now go their separate ways for the next three weeks, as 10 players head to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. The club will re-convene on February 27th when they play another road game against the New York Rangers, then head home to battle the Pittsburgh Penguins two days later at Soldier Field.