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Khabibulin's off, heat's on
The first sign that Sunday was going to be a tough day for Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came 44 seconds into the game.
Phoenix winger Oleg Saprykin lofted a 53-foot snap shot that went in and out of Khabibulin's glove. No damage was done on that play, but it came soon enough.
With the injured Martin Havlat out of the lineup, Khabibulin can't afford to have an off day if the Hawks are to have a chance to win. But he did and the Hawks didn't, dropping their third straight and fifth of their last six with a 4-2 loss to the streaking Coyotes.
Since winning five of their first eight games and collecting points in every one of them after Denis Savard took over as coach, the Hawks are 5-8 in their last 13.
Phoenix passed the Hawks in the Western Conference standings. The Hawks are now 12th in the West, six points out of the last playoff spot, with games coming up Wednesday night against Buffalo and Saturday night at Detroit.
January figured to be a critical month for the Hawks, with eight of their last 10 at home. But Sunday was the third straight loss at the United Center. In those games, Khabibulin has given up 11 goals on 37 shots.
"I was fighting the puck quite a bit," Khabibulin said.
After the Hawks took the lead five minutes into the game on a beautiful passing play from Jeff Hamilton to Tony Salmelainen and ending with Patrick Sharp scoring his first goal in six games, the Coyotes responded 18 seconds later and were never threatened.
Jeremy Roenick had a partial breakaway and slid a shot between Khabibulin's pads to tie the game 1-1. Roenick then set up Mike Zigomanis for a power-play goal 2:23 later.
Phoenix eventually made it four unanswered goals when Fredrik Sjostrom and Saprykin scored. Sjostrom's goal came on a floater from 36 feet that Khabibulin just missed with his glove.
"The third goal was pretty pathetic," Khabibulin said. "I thought we played very well, battled hard and didn't spend a lot of time in our zone, but I didn't provide them with any help."
Considering the number of times this season Khabibulin has given the Hawks a chance to win, Sunday could have been a day on which they bailed out their goalie.
But despite outshooting Phoenix 34-17, many of the Hawks' shots again came from long range, allowing Coyotes goaltender Mikael Tellqvist clear looks. In the second period the Hawks outshot Phoenix 16-9, but just three of those shots came inside 20 feet.
Peter Bondra's power-play goal closed the scoring midway through the third period.
"We had enough chances to win," Savard said. "We have to stay up and stay positive. There's a long way to go yet."
Sporting a team-worst minus-10, captain Adrian Aucoin was a healthy scratch Sunday. "His game has slipped," Savard said. Signed after the lockout to a four-year, $16 million deal to be a force on the power play, the defenseman has just two goals and nine points this season. In 63 games since joining the Hawks, he has three goals and 15 points.
With Aucoin out, winger Martin Lapointe wore the "C."
Winger Rene Bourque was put on injured reserve with a bruised ankle.
Defenseman Lasse Kukkonen, tied with winger Radim Vrbata for the team lead at plus-8, was back in the lineup after being scratched the last two games.
If this is Roenick's last season, Sunday was his final regular-season appearance in Chicago. Since being traded from the Hawks in 1996, Roenick has played his former team 33 times, compiling nine goals and 26 points.
Colin Fraser, a 21-year-old center, made his NHL debut. He played 3 minutes 18 seconds and was penalized for hooking in the first period.