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Back from 'circus trip,' Blackhawks face Coyotes

by Brian Hedger
COYOTES (12-7-3) at BLACKHAWKS (14-7-3)


Last 10:
Phoenix 6-3-1; Chicago 6-4-0

Season Series:
This is the second of four meetings. In the initial matchup, the Blackhawks dominated Phoenix 5-2 and outshot the Coyotes by a 35-16 margin -- getting two assists each from Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Dave Bolland, who also scored a goal.

Big Story: After Chicago got handled by Calgary, blown out by Edmonton and had a game stolen from them by former goalie Antti Niemi in San Jose, it looked like the Blackhawks' annual "circus trip" might turn into a nightmare. Instead, powered by a strong effort in the loss to the Sharks, the Hawks won the final two games of the trip against the Ducks and Kings and finished the swing with a 3-3-0 mark.

They left Chicago on top of the Western Conference standings and returned in the same position with 31 points heading into Monday's games.

"It was a rough start the first three games but we played the way we could and the way we have to, starting in San Jose," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who had 3 goals and 6 points in the last two games. "It was just a solid team effort (in San Jose) and same thing for the last two games. We found ways to win two tight games. It was a good finish and we learned a lot. We're a better team now."

Chicago will now play 18 of its next 25 games at United Center, where the Hawks are 7-1-2.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: Phoenix has fallen into a pattern during the past six games of interspersing wins with losses, which the Coyotes will be looking to break in the Windy City. The 'Yotes downed Dallas 3-0 this past weekend and are an impressive 6-3-1 on the road. They are also 8-1-1 in games that follow losses.

"It just shows what kind of guys we have in this locker room," said goalie Mike Smith, who picked up his 11th win and second shutout of the season against the Stars. "Nobody likes to lose, but even to lose two in a row … nobody likes to get into those little slides. You need to stop them as quick as you can and we've done a good job of it so far."

Veteran center Daymond Langkow also returned from an extended absence to grieve the death of his mother and made an impact right away against Dallas with a pair of assists in 17 minutes. Kyle Turris, who recently signed a contract extension with the Coyotes after a contentious negotiation process, has made the trip with the club but is not expected to play.

Blackhawks: After finishing the long trip strong with a pair of needed wins, the Hawks can't let their guard down and relax just because they're back home -- where they've been extremely tough so far. Coach Joel Quenneville is especially wary of this first game back, as it's traditionally proven to be one of the harder ones to win regardless of the opposition -- let alone Phoenix, which is one of the West's best road teams.

"It's a dangerous game," he said of the first game back from Chicago's annual "circus trip" that takes them to California and Western Canada. "The trend and history is definitely accurate. It's tough and challenging and we want to make sure that we simplify the approach and make it like a road game."

The good news is that things seem to be righted after the three straight losses. Toews is one of the hottest players in the League right now and goalie Corey Crawford finished up the trip strong with a pair of solid showings against both the Sharks in a 1-0 loss and the Kings in a 2-1 win.

Who's Hot:
Keith has 7 assists and 9 points in as many games since returning to Chicago's lineup from a hand injury that kept him out for three games at the beginning of November. … Keith Yandle has scored 1 goal and added 5 assists in the past five games for Phoenix.

Injury Report:
The Coyotes are without defenseman Michal Rozsival, who's been on injured reserve since Oct. 10 with an undisclosed upper body injury. … Defenseman Brent Seabrook (leg) and center Dave Bolland both missed the Blackhawks' practice Monday for maintenance days, but are expected to play.

Stat Pack:
After watching their power play sink to near the bottom of the League to start the season, the Blackhawks have scored on the man-advantage in seven of their past 10 games and racked up 10 goals in those contests. … The Coyotes are the least penalized team in the League, averaging just 8.4 minutes per game in the penalty box, but allow 32.9 shots against per game -- close to the bottom of the League.

Puck Drop:
Chicago has allowed 74 goals this season, which is alarming considering the Hawks were one of the Western Conference's top teams in goal differential last year. The amount they've allowed this year is just one less than the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are currently the League's last-place team.

"Offensive production in our locker room is not the issue," Sharp said. "We've got plenty of goals. It's keeping the puck out of our net that's going to make us successful."

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