Blackhawks-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 20, 2013
Marian Hossa played a big role in the Chicago Blackhawks' splendid season-opening performance, which spoiled one team's highly anticipated celebration. Hossa and the Blackhawks might look forward even more to their next chance to crash a home opener. On Sunday night, Chicago will face the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time since a playoff series defeat that featured a vicious hit to its star forward. After finishing with a team-best 77 points in 2011-12, Hossa was poised to lead the Blackhawks' drive toward a second Stanley Cup in three seasons but he didn't get much of a chance to help. The winger suffered a concussion when he was leveled by Phoenix's Raffi Torres in a Game 3 loss in Chicago. Because of that hit, Torres will have to sit out another seven games after missing the final 13 in the playoffs and Saturday's season opener, a 4-3 loss in Dallas. Hossa, meanwhile, was aided in his recovery by the lockout, and he appeared fresh in the season opener, registering two goals and an assist in Saturday's 5-2 win at Los Angeles. "As the minutes went by, I started feeling more confident and comfortable on the ice," he said. "I tried to keep it simple, especially at the beginning. Nothing too fancy. "Obviously my timing is not there yet, but it's going to come with the more games we play." Jonathan Toews, who has been battling the flu, and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist after the Kings celebrated their first Stanley Cup title. "It's the best start you can ask for, for a first game like that," said goaltender Corey Crawford, who had 19 saves. "I think all around our guys did a great job." The Blackhawks (1-0-0) will try for another dominant performance against Phoenix, which won a competitive Pacific Division en route to appearing in the Western Conference finals. Mike Smith's breakout season played a big part in that run, but he gave up four goals on 26 shots in Saturday's defeat. Radim Vrbata had two goals and an assist in the losing effort. "Both teams give each other some gifts, and we end up giving one more," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "That's a tough way to lose. That's uncharacteristic of our team, but I guess first game coming out, you've got to expect some mistakes." Smith, who posted career bests of 38 wins and a 2.21 goals-against average in 2011-12, was usually at his best when facing Chicago last season. He had a 1.30 GAA while winning all three regular-season matchups and put up a 1.81 GAA in the six-game playoff triumph. Antoine Vermette had four goals and an assist during that series and Keith Yandle had five assists. Vrbata scored a team-best three goals as the Coyotes (0-1-0) went 3-1-0 against Chicago in the regular season but had only one assist in the playoff matchup. Toews has seven goals and four assists in his last 12 games against the Coyotes, including the playoffs, and Hossa has at least one point in seven of his last eight visits to Phoenix during the regular season. The Blackhawks will likely have to play their next game there without top-line forward Daniel Carcillo, who suffered a lower-body injury Saturday. The Coyotes lost their first two games last season but haven't suffered back-to-back regulation defeats to open a campaign since Oct. 5-6, 2005. Chicago hasn't won its first two games in a season since Oct. 5-6, 1996.
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