CHICAGO – After 20 minutes, it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks might steamroll the visiting Detroit Red Wings for their franchise record-setting sixth straight win to open a season.
Instead, the visitors from the Motor City overcame a rough first period and made the home team earn its 2-1 victory in overtime on Sunday night at United Center.
The winning goal was scored by Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy at 2:45 of the extra session, after he joined a rush to give his team a 3-on-2 in the Detroit zone. Leddy took a pass from Viktor Stalberg and zipped a shot from the left circle past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard – which gave the Blackhawks the best start in franchise history.
Chicago's six straight wins bests the mark of the 1971-72 team, which won five in a row.
"It seems like we're doing a lot of things right," Stalberg said. "We're not turning pucks over and playing smart hockey. If [we're] not making mistakes, it's going to be tough to beat us."
It also helps to get scoring from the back end, and the Blackhawks (6-0-0) got both of theirs from defensemen. Leddy's goal – his first of the season – ended the game's scoring while Duncan Keith's first marker of the year gave Chicago a 1-0 lead just 2:24 into the game to cap a power play.
Johan Franzen scored Detroit's lone goal at 4:30 of the third to tie it 1-1 for the Detroit (2-2-1) – which couldn't convert any of its six man-advantages into goals – including four in the second period, when the Red Wings also frittered away 43 seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity.
Detroit has now scored just two goals in 26 power plays for a paltry 7.7 percent conversion rate. That might be the biggest area where the Red Wings miss retired star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom – who smoothly quarterbacked their power play for years.
"I think we're looking for the perfect shot," said Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who put two shots on goal but had two others blocked. "Sometimes a [wrist shot] in there creates some momentum and creates some chances or chaos in front of their net. We have to get back to the basics a little bit instead of passing the puck around too much. We had a few pretty good looks. We just couldn't get the job done."
The flip side is the job the Blackhawks penalty-killing units did – not only in this game but in all six games thus far. Chicago is now ranked second in the League in penalty killing, after killing off 22 of 23 advantages for the opposition (95.6 percent). The Blackhawks have also killed all 15 opposing power plays they've faced in road games.
Spearheading the effort are unheralded fourth-line forwards Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik plus goalie Corey Crawford (29 saves) – who improved to 5-0-0 with this win and now has a 1.78 goals-against average.
"There's a lot of things that go into having a good penalty kill," said Keith, who has recorded a point in three of the last four games and blocked three shots against Detroit. "First and foremost, we've got everybody contributing. Frolik and Kruger have done a real good job of stepping up and being a big part of that penalty kill and Crawford's been good in net when he's had to make those saves."
Crawford was forced to make several big ones in this game, including one off a tipped point-blast by Kronwall in the first that preserved the early 1-0 lead. Chicago, however, controlled most of the first period – making Howard (25 saves) come up with a number of impressive stops to keep his team in the game.
Despite gritting out a 3-2 victory Saturday night in Columbus, the Blackhawks came out flying.
Keith's goal put the Blackhawks up quickly, after a holding call on Kent Huskins led to a power play. During the advantage, Detroit's Patrick Eaves lost his stick in a corner battle and Marian Hossa gained control of the puck. He slid it out to Seabrook at the point, who found Keith in the left circle.
That turned out to be Chicago's lone man-advantage of the first, but the Blackhawks' puck-possession game was so dominant that it felt like they had several more in the period. Detroit turned the momentum in the second by drawing four penalties and putting the pressure on Chicago's penalty kill units, but the Blackhawks were up to the challenge.
Chicago also blocked 20 shots in this game, including four each by defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson, Seabrook and Johnny Oduya. Seabrook now leads the NHL with 19 blocked shots, while Hjalmarsson's 16 ranks third.
"It was huge," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of his team's special teams. "It was a second period of kills. The forwards, the [defensemen] blocking the shots and the key saves by [Crawford]. It was a group effort."
Detroit finally tied it 1-1 on Franzen's goal early in the third, his first of the season, which he scored after a long shot by Henrik Zetterberg deflected off Keith's skate in the low slot. The puck went right to Franzen's stick and he used Keith as a screen to fire it through Crawford's pads.
The goal also continued a Blackhawks' shutout dry spell. Chicago hasn't had a shutout since beating the Vancouver Canucks 5-0 on April 21, 2011 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and hasn't had a regular-season shutout since March 23, 2011 – when Crawford shut out the Florida Panthers on home ice.
Considering the outcome of this game, however, the shutout spell is just an obscure stat to the Blackhawks. Heading into a six-game road trip that starts Wednesday in Minnesota, Chicago is only concerned with continuing its strong start.
"It's unbelievable," Leddy said of the undefeated start. "I heard that stat before the game and it's just unbelievable. We have a great group of guys in this locker room and I think if we just stick to doing the little things and playing the system, then we'll do great."