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Vrbata, Caron help Hawks keep it simple
Playing the New Jersey Devils apparently rubbed off on the Blackhawks.
One night after learning how to play a tight, low-scoring game from the NHL's masters, the Hawks applied what they learned to snap their eight-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Friday night at the United Center.
Sebastien Caron, making his first start of the season, picked up the victory, making 24 saves.
"It was a good win," coach Trent Yawney said. "The guys deserve a lot of credit. We have to be successful by playing tight defensively. The guys showed a lot of poise in the third period."
The Hawks came into the game with the third-worst home power play in the league, clicking on 3 of 33 attempts. They nearly doubled that in the first 20 minutes.
Radim Vrbata, whose last goal came against the Blues on Oct. 21, jumped on a pair of loose pucks to give the Hawks their first two-goal lead in a game since that same night.
Vrbata's last two-goal game came March 26 against the San Jose Sharks. Bryan Smolinski added an empty-net goal for his first since Oct. 18.
"Tonight it just landed on my stick, and I had an open net," Vrbata said. "Some days it comes easy, other days it comes hard."
The Hawks twice previously had had two-goal leads against the Blues this season only to lose both times.
"It's a big relief in the dressing room [to win]," Vrbata said. "We were waiting for this."
Assisting on both goals was Jeff Hamilton, who in his first two months of the season already has experienced numerous ups and downs.
After making the team as a tryout in training camp as a power-play specialist, Hamilton had three points in his first three games and five in his first seven. After going three games without a point, however, Hamilton has found himself alternating in and out of the lineup.
Of Hamilton's eight points this season, five have come on the power play, which leads the team.
"I just try to keep it simple back there," Hamilton said. "I was fortunate that they put me on the power play early and let me get comfortable back there."
The two power-play goals also snapped an 0-for-24 streak with the man advantage dating back to, of course, Oct. 21 against the Blues.
Aside from the two power-play goals, the Hawks didn't generate much offensively at even strength and were pinned in their own end for much of the second period.
Their first shot on goal came nearly 14 minutes into the period. St. Louis finally got on the board late in the period when Keith Tkachuk intercepted a Caron clearing pass behind the net and found Lee Stempniak in front to cut the lead to 2-1.
Hawks goaltender Brian Boucher gets the award as the league's hard-luck goalie so far this season. According to Stats, Boucher receives the lowest goal support for any netminder who has played more than five games. The Hawks have scored only 1.37 goals per 60 minutes with Boucher in goal. By contrast, the Hawks scored 4.20 goals with Nikolai Khabibulin in goal, second most behind only San Jose's Vesa Toskala at 4.21. Of course, Martin Havlat played in all the games Khabibulin was in goal and only two games for Boucher.
Friday was the first time the Hawks had more than one power-play goal in a game since Oct. 20 in Dallas.