Every time the Blackhawks offense goes dormant, the proposed solution is always the same. Keep it simple. Go to the net. Score an ugly goal or two.
It’s easier said than done, of course, and the Hawks have had trouble getting anywhere near the net in a number of recent games — opponents hemming them in along the boards and keeping them out of the high-danger area in the slot. The result has been an alarming goal drought in which the Hawks scored two or fewer goals in six of their last eight games, exacerbated by a power play that had four goals in its last 48 chances, dating all the way back to Nov. 1.
“If you’re on the outside, you’re getting boxed out and not getting a net-front presence, the goalie’s seeing the puck and you’re not going to score in our league,” Joel Quenneville said.
The Hawks found their way to the net on Tuesday, and as a result cruised to a 4-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Marian Hossa had two goals to tie Jeremy Roenick for 38th on the all-time goal list, and Scott Darling made 22 saves for the shutout, aided by one of the Hawks’ most dominant defensive efforts of the season.
Playing the woeful Coyotes — losers of five straight — certainly helped.
“That’s the way you want to play,” said Darling, who didn’t see a shot in the third period until 5:54 remained.”I can’t remember one extremely Grade-A chance we gave up. The guys were great, the ‘D’ were great, the forwards were great on defense. That was nice for me.”
But the win was tempered by yet another injury to a star player. With Jonathan Toews (back) and Corey Crawford (appendectomy) already out, the Hawks lost stalwart defenseman Brent Seabrook in the second period after he was tripped up by Arizona’s Jordan Martinook. Seabrook landed hard on his back and appeared to hit his head on the ice. He was slow to get up, and skated off the dressing room. He didn’t return, and Quenneville deemed it an “upper-body injury.” Seabrook was seen chatting outside the dressing rooms after the game, but Quenneville said he wouldn’t know his status until Wednesday.
Offensively, it wasn’t the most impressive performance by the Hawks, but it was certainly a lot better than their last two games, uninspired losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets. Arizona had given up an obscene amount of shots on goal lately — 42 or more in five of their last nine games, including a staggering 60 on Saturday night against Columbus. Yet the Hawks managed just five in the first period and 27 overall.
But keeping in line with the theme of the season, the slow start didn’t do much to slow the Hawks. Despite being outshot in 21 of the 28 first periods this season, they’ve outscored opponents 23-19 in those periods. And sure enough, the Hawks led 1-0 after the first on Tuesday thanks to Artem Anisimov’s power-play goal. Anisimov planted himself in front of the Arizona net and redirected a perfect Patrick Kane pass past goalie Mike Smith for the goal.
It was exactly the kind of goal Anisimov said the Hawks needed.
“Play a little simpler,” he said. “Go to the net. Score ugly ones. A couple ugly ones, from redirects or screening the goalie. Just go to the net hard and create chances.”
The Hawks continued to do that in the second period, generating far more shots and far more chances. At 6:26 of the second, Hossa charged the net and kicked a Ryan Hartman saucer pass to his own stick before sneaking the puck past Smith on the short side. Hossa added his 14th goal late in the third period. He had just 13 all of last season.
“He’s incredible,” Darling said. “I still can’t believe how fast he is. He just has that next gear. He’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever been on the ice with. He’s an impressive human being.”
While the crowd was still celebrating Hossa’s first goal, Dennis Rasmussen made it 3-0 just 19 seconds later, thanks to some terrific forechecking by Richard Panik. First, Panik stripped the puck from a Coyotes defender in the offensive zone, crashed the net and got a shot on goal. He then fished out the rebound, won a battle for it behind the net, and slid a pass to Rasmussen, who finished on the doorstep.
The Hawks locked it down from there for a much-needed easy victory.
“It’s always nice to see them go in the net, whoever’s scoring them,” said defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was much improved in his second game back from a shoulder injury. “It just kind of gets everyone going. … It’s always a lot of fun when you put a few in.”