The 31-year-old pitched a 30-save shutout, blanking the league’s highest-scoring team for the first time in 127 games dating back to Feb. 25, 2012, a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
At the other end, power-play goals by Keith Yandle and Radim Vrbata spurred the Coyotes to victory, a 2-0 success over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a record-breaking crowd of 17,525 at Jobing.com Arena.
“We didn't seem to have that energy that we've had this last little while,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “It was a long [six-game] road trip with a lot of travel, and that might have impacted our performance a little bit. Either way, it wasn’t good enough and it isn’t the way we wanted to head into the break, but overall it was a successful road trip.”
The Blackhawks picked up eight of a possible 12 points (3-1-2) over the the six-game journey. Head coach Joel Quenneville said he is pleased with that result looking back, but believes his team let a pair get away with a soft start against the Coyotes.
“Disappointing game,” he said. “We battled back but [Smith] made some saves on us. Bottom line is you can’t start like that. We were in a hole right off the bat.”
Indeed, it wasn’t the way they drew it up. An early penalty to Brandon Bollig proved costly for the sluggish Blackhawks, who had surrendered a myriad of quality chances by the midway mark of the opening period. It took just 8 seconds for Yandle to find the back of the net on the power play, rifling a one-timer past Corey Crawford at 1 minutes, 9 seconds of the first.
The Blackhawks’ best chance of the period came late when Brandon Saad raced in alone, but even that wasn’t much of a test for Smith. The Canadian Olympian stood tall, coolly nabbing Saad’s fluttering backhand shot with the webbing of his outstretched mitt.
Patrick Sharp was another victim of Smith’s heroics, peering skyward after his skillful swat of an aerial feed was thwarted by the goalie’s left pad late in the second period.
It was otherwise a pedestrian night for the Blackhawks’ offense.
“At the end of the day, I think they outworked us and deserved to win,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “You've got to give the Coyotes credit, though. We weren’t even close to our best, but they played well and shut us down.”
The Hawks played better as the minutes ticked by, outshooting the Coyotes 23-16 in Periods 2 and 3, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a listless start, a hot goalie and some ill-timed penalty trouble.
Wheeling down the wing moments after Sharp’s chance, Saad was sprung on a partial break but couldn’t cash in the equalizer. Instead, he crashed heavily into Smith and multiple penalties were assessed -- the obvious one, goaltender interference, on Saaad, and to Michal Rozsival for unsportsmanlike conduct -- resulting in an extended two-man advantage for the home side.
“I didn't like the whole sequence of events. I didn't like the calls -- or non-calls -- at all,” Quenneville said.
The Coyotes wasted little time in securing an insurance marker, as Vrbata picked his way through the slot and beat Crawford for a wicked wrist shot at 18:29.
Incredibly, the Coyotes are 9-0-2 this season (79-17-11 overall) when Vrbata scores a goal.
“Every time we seemed to get some momentum going, we took a penalty and put ourselves in a tough spot,” Toews said. “Against a strong defensive team like that, you're not going to be able to play catch-up, especially when you’re on the road.
“It wasn't our best effort, and it wasn't our best game as a team, but we also played into their hands a little bit by committing those kind of errors.”
Ten Blackhawks are now off to represent their countries at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The Hawks’ next game is Feb. 27 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“We played some tough teams in some tough buildings [on this road trip],” said Keith, who will suit up for Team Canada alongside Toews and Sharp. “Overall, I’d say it was pretty successful and that we’ve positioned ourselves well. Some guys can get some rest over the break while the others continue on into this bit of madness.
“It’s going to be crazy. We’re heading back to Chicago tonight, flying to New York tomorrow and then we’re off to Russia on Sunday.
“And I can’t wait.”