GLENDALE, Ariz. – The pregame talk on Thursday was all about Raffi Torres and Marian Hossa. But after the opening 20 minutes between Chicago and Phoenix, the conversation had shifted to the Blackhawks' razor-sharp skill players and how Chicago is carving up the West.
Patrick Kane continued to pile up points with two goals and an assist, and Patrick Sharp added three assists during Chicago's four-goal first period. They were two of five Blackhawks with multi-point games in a 6-2 rout of the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
Despite playing only two of their first 11 games on home ice, the Blackhawks are an NHL-best 9-0-2 and only getting stronger as they approach some of the best starts in NHL history. The 2006-07 Anaheim Mighty Ducks opened the season 12-0-4 and the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers started 12-0-3 in the days of ties. Both teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But neither of those starts came in a shortened season – or by a team playing more than 80 percent of its games on the road. The Blackhawks visit Nashville on Sunday before heading back to the United Center for their next seven games.
"We have a lot of depth and everyone is contributing right now," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Coaches have been good about giving us time off to rest, and guys are using that time wisely. It's huge to have this kind of start with all the road games and to put that part of the schedule behind us the way we're doing it."
Kane now has 18 points in 11 games – three behind Buffalo's Tomas Vanek for the League lead. Sharp whiffed on some scoring chances but now has nine assists, one behind Kane for the team lead.
"You couldn't have asked for a better first period ... it was a fun period of hockey," Kane said. "[Sharp] is a little snake-bit in the goal department. But I can say over the past couple of years, it kills me to say it, but he has become a better passer as time has gone on."
Viktor Stalberg, Dave Bolland, Jonathan Toews and Brian Bickell also scored for Chicago, which has scored 12 of its 38 goals in a pair of road wins against the Coyotes – the team that ousted the Blackhawks from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
Martin Hanzal had his fifth goal of the season for Phoenix, and Torres added his first of the year with 1:25 left – but it was meaningless. The Coyotes came into the game with a 3-0-2 record in their last five games, a span in which they allowed just six non-shootout goals. Chicago had six in the first 35:08 of play.
The Coyotes had four shots in the first period, racked up 25 penalty minutes – 12 by defenseman Keith Yandle -- and gave the talent-rich Blackhawks a pair of 5-on-3 power plays to feast on, with Kane punching home goals each time.
"This is a good slap in the face right here," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said of the Hawks' first-period barrage. "We just went out here and got kicked. And if we don't recognize that, then we've got bigger problems than we think.
"The hooks and the holding, you're getting beat. But the yapping penalties ... [Shane] Doan took a yapping penalty, Yandle took two yapping penalties. They're supposed to be our captains? That speaks for itself."
There was little question that the Blackhawks would seek out retribution against Torres for the hit that ended Hossa's season in Game 3 of the last year's Western Conference quarterfinal and earned him a 21-game suspension -- only how long it would take. The answer was 2:35 into the game, about 20 seconds into Torres' first shift.
Torres delivered a check near the Chicago bench and was called out by veteran Jamal Mayers as came over the boards for his first shift. Torres quickly obliged and the pair traded some good shots before tumbling to the ice.
"That was awesome. That one gave me chills," Kane said. "It was fun to watch. [Mayers] pumped up everyone on the bench and got us going."
Torres fully expected to have to answer the bell.
"If I'm going to go out there and play that way, then you have to be accountable," he said. "It is what it is. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about our game. I've moved on. I don't go home and think about this stuff. It's part of the game, and if I got out there and run around I'll have to answer the bell sometimes."
From there, the Blackhawks ramped up their play -- while Coyotes lost their system, their discipline and their composure.
Stalberg started the scoring at 8:17, taking a pretty Andrew Shaw feed up the slot and beating Smith to the short side under the crossbar for his third goal of the season.
Then Phoenix began its parade to the penalty box.
Just 39 seconds after Oliver-Ekman Larsson was sent off for interference, Derek Morris joined him for cross-checking. Smith was able to stop a point-blank bid from Sharp, but Toews slid the puck to the other post where Kane was waiting -- and he extended his goal-scoring streak to four games at 14:52.
Just 2:32 later, Sharp caught Kane flying into the Phoenix zone, and Kane patiently waited for a trailing Bolland steaming up the slot. Kane set up the one-timer and Bolland blew the puck past Smith to make it 3-0.
Yandle drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty immediately after Bolland's goal and Zbynek Michalek headed to the box 34 seconds later for tripping Bolland. Sharp needed just 27 seconds of the 5-on-3 power play to find Kane across the crease for another slam dunk, giving Chicago a 4-0 lead.
"When you give up five power-play opportunities, one soft goal, two 5-on-3 goals and one where we had nobody willing to cover anybody close and put them up [4-0], it makes it kind of an uphill battle," Tippett said.
The Coyotes showed a bit of life when Hanzal tipped home Radim Vrbata's power-play shot 5:19 into the second period, but Chicago chased Smith with two more goals 2:16 apart to seal it.
Toews made a pretty end-to-end rush – leaving both Torres and Ekman-Larsson twisted in his wake -- before he beat Smith with a wrister at 12:42. Stalberg swiped the puck from an exasperated Yandle behind the Phoenix net and set up Bickell on the doorstep at 15:08 to make it 6-1.