We heard it plenty during the broadcast and after the game, the game after a long road trip can be a tough one. Whether it's trying too hard to impress the home crowd or simply a tendency not to muster the necessary energy, the excuse was in the holster about halfway through the game when it became apparent that the Hawks might fall prey to the simple, yet effective, style of the Yotes.
Things started out ok as the Hawks played solid but unspectacular hockey for the first 15 minutes or so of the 1st. A bad change by the Men of Four Feathers, and an even worse decision by an aggresive Nik Hjalmarsson, yielded an odd man rush that was finished on a nice three way passing play by Doan, Whitney, and Lankow.
The Hawks didn't do themselves any favors by going the first 9 minutes or so of the second frame without a shot on net, and as they often do, Phoenix took advantage of the next opportunity they were given. Nick Leddy fired a slapshot that deflected off Viktor Stalberg (who, had he not limped off the ice, would have been the first forward back), and four Yotes countered the other way. Boedker recevied a pass and skated into the circle on his off side; Hjalmarsson probably should've given Boedker all the space he wanted to either pull up or fire a bad angle shot, but he instead went for the poke check which left an open passing lane to Shane Doan who rifled a one-timer that beat Crawford upstairs.
If you thought that the Hawks might be able to score early in the third and make a game out of it, you thought wrong. A little over a minute in, Martin Hanzal made a nice play to strip Patrick Kane as Kaner carried the puck out of the zone. In on the forecheck, the Yotes forced an airborne puck which fell right to He-who-shall-not-be-named, and a backhander deflected off of Keith's stick and over Crow's left pad. At this point in the game, we pretty much knew the contest wasn't going to go the Hawks way, and so did they. Things got really ugly as another furious Phoenix forecheck (say that three times fast......it was only a matter of time until a Foley joke slipped into my subconscious) led to Martin Hanzal having time and space behind the net as he fed Ray Whitney with a sweet no look pass for tally number 4.
Some Carcillo stupidity, a meaningless Sharp powerplay goal, and yada-yada, the Coyotes are now only two points behind the Hawks with two games in hand.
Bullet Time, it's not just for Max Payne
- The Phoenix Coyotes are cut from the same cloth as the Nashville Predators of years past: great coaching, disciplined play, and solid forechecking ability while somehow not not leaving as much room in the neutral zone as there ought to be. Tonight's Hawks squad was the Teddy KGB to Phoenix's Mike McDermott: This son of bitch, all night he, "Check. Check. Check."
- Corey Crawford moved well laterally on the first Phoenix goal, but he couldn't come up with a save that he should've had once he displayed enough athleticism to get in the right position. This was one of those nights that the Hawks needed Crow to keep the game scoreless until they could find a way to break though. This game isn't all on Crow, but he's still not making all of the saves he needs to make right now. I'm a Crawford fan, and I want to believe that he'll come out of this, but with each sub par game, my confidence wanes.
- In the other net, Mike Smith was all sorts of solid. Not too many rebounds given up, and phenomenal puck handling and athleticism behind his own net. Edzo made note of how easy Smith makes things on his Dmen by getting to most dump-ins and getting the puck out without his blueliners having to skate behind the goal line. It's just one of the many subtle things that the Yotes do to perfection in Tippett's well-oiled machine.
- Hammer and Leddy, not good kids. Monty was on the ice for the first Phoenix goal, but Leddy was with Hammer for two others. I've already mentioned that I wasn't happy with Hammer's positioning and decision making on goals 1 and 2 (and maybe even 4), but Leddy stood by (mouth agape) as Martin Hanzal made a nice no look pass to Whitney for the goal that finally ended Crawford's night. Nik & Nick at Night are going to have to be more reliable than they were tonight.
- For as much praise as Dan Carcillo received when he was doing the simple things for the first few weeks of the season, he has a tendency to remind his detractors why they doubted him. In his first game back after a healthy scratch, he wasn't all that much of a factor. Between him heeling a two on one chance on a nice feed from Kane, and his too little too late third period shenanigans, I'd say this was not the return to the lineup that Q was looking for.
- It's games like this when it'd be nice for the third and/or fourth lines to grind out a goal to help get the team going, but it didn't happen tonight, and it hasn't happened much in the past few weeks.
- The simple fact of the matter is that on far too many nights, the Hawks struggle to create offense via the forecheck. This general wart was exacerbated by the dreaded return-home-after-a-long-trip game. To be clear, this isn't just an issue for the grinders, it's an issue for most of the forwards who currently don the Indian Head.
- There are no prepackaged excuses for Friday's game; the Hawks need to take care of business at home against the struggling Islanders.