The Chicago Blackhawks may have the best offense in the NHL this season, but it was their goaltending that kept them in Friday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, and it was ultimately Ben Smith that scored the game winning goal in the shootout as they won their fifth straight contest.
The Hawks will hit the ice again on Saturday night out in the desert, as they try to wrap up their circus trip with a win over the Phoenix Coyotes. Ever since the Hawks were bested by the Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals series, they have gone 3-0-1 against Phoenix, with their only loss coming in a shootout late in the regular season in 2013. The Hawks ended up winning a shootout this season, taking a 5-4 decision against the Coyotes at the United Center earlier this month.
For the Coyotes, there is an enormous amount of anticipation around the Valley of the Sun for this game, as the team reported that they set a new record for ticket revenue for the contest. The Coyotes even said on their Twitter account Saturday afternoon that fans travelling to the game at Jobing.com Arena should make preparations to arrive early because of the amount of traffic around the stadium. So it’s pretty obvious that they are ecstatic for this chance to prove their mettle against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The month of November has been a mixed bag for the Coyotes, as they haven’t been able to get any consistent momentum, but they still find themselves in a playoff spot with a three-point lead over the Vancouver Canucks for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Key to the Game: Cut Down on the Defensive Turnovers
For fans that watched the Hawks’ victory on Friday against the Dallas Stars, there was one worrisome trend that continued to show itself at regular intervals: the inability of the Hawks’ defensemen to make smart passes with the puck.
Nick Leddy’s bad pass to Marcus Kruger at the blue line led to the Stars’ only goal of the game in the first period. Duncan Keith fired a pass across the defensive zone that was picked off and nearly put in the net by the Stars. Brent Seabrook tried to sneak a pass past Ray Whitney at the line, and the wily forward intercepted it and nearly potted a net on a rush. Seabrook also had the puck swiped off his stick by Ryan Garbutt in the first period, but Corey Crawford made a great glove save to stop the scoring opportunity.
Against a team that is lightning quick in transition, those kinds of mistakes can lead to a terrible night at the office, and with guys like Oliver Ekman Larsson and Keith Yandle able to feast on those errors, the Hawks have got to remain disciplined when trying to get quality zone exits in this game.
Blackhawk to Watch: Marian Hossa
Ever since he was knocked out of the 2012 playoffs by a high hit by Phoenix forward Raffi Torres, Hossa has seemed to take particular joy in thrashing the Coyotes whenever he can. In four games since the incident, Hossa has scored three goals and racked up 15 shots on goal as the Hawks have racked up a 3-0-1 record against Phoenix.
Hossa has looked like he hasn’t missed a beat since he left the team for personal reasons last week, and has really been a big catalyst for the continued success of the team’s top line. If he can continue that on Saturday, then the Hawks will be in a great position to win their sixth straight game.
Coyote to Watch: Radim Vrbata
The former Blackhawk has been firing on all cylinders as of late, picking up points in four of his last five games for the Coyotes. That number includes the two goals that he scored in the Coyotes’ victory Wednesday over the Minnesota Wild, including the game winner in the contest. He also had three assists against the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago.
Vrbata is a big part of the reason why the Coyotes have been doing so much better on the offensive side of the game this season, and the Hawks will have to keep a sharp eye on him with Dave Tippett getting the benefit of last line change as the home coach in the game.