Ryan Miller survived an onslaught through the first two periods and kept the Buffalo Sabres close, but Corey Crawford was good enough to earn a hard-fought victory on Saturday night at the United Center.
The Blackhawks put 37 shots on net in the first 40 minutes, many of which were quality scoring changes, but Miller was up to the challenge. He allowed only two goals, to Ben Smith and Patrick Kane, and helped the Sabres survive two of three penalty kills in the first two periods.
Kane’s goal came on a power play with less than one minute remaining in the second period and was his fourth of the young season. Patrick Sharp directed a gorgeous pass though traffic in front of the net to a wide-open Kane, who deposited the puck behind Miller for the eventual game-winner.
In the third period, it was Crawford’s turn to stand on his head. The Hawks put only three shots on net in the final 20 minutes, while the Sabres attack put 13 at Crawford. Drew Stafford beat Crawford for Buffalo’s only tally at 11:49, but Crawford held strong against a desperate attack to earn the victory.
On the night, Crawford stopped 28 of 29 shots.
One night after a stronger performance, Marian Hossa had another very good effort. He led the Blackhawks with six takeaways with four shots on net and one blocked shot. Kane was credited with four takeaways against his hometown Sabres and led the team with six shots on net.
Bryan Bickell also made an impact (for the first time this year). He led the team with four hits, including a big (legal) hit on Cody Hodgson to prevent a scoring chance early in the game. Bickell saw some shifts back with Jonathan Toews and Kane, but was again limited to under 14 minutes of ice time.
In his first NHL action of the season, Brandon Pirri spent the night with the Hawks’ fourth line and held his own between Brandon Bollig and Smith. He was credited with one shot on net, one blocked shot and one takeaway while winning six of ten faceoffs in 9:29 on the ice.
Pirri helped the Blackhawks dominate at the dot even without Michal Handzus out of the lineup. Toews won 13 of 21 draws in the game, but Andrew Shaw improved to win five of eight and Sharp also won four of five.
The Department of Player Safety will likely give Buffalo “captain” Steve Ott a call after he boarded Ben Smith in the first period. Smith took some time to get up after the play and left the bench for a few moments, but returned to the game and contributed 43 seconds to the penalty kill unit.
Chicago’s penalty kill, which came into Saturday night ranked dead last in the NHL, was perfect against three Buffalo power plays. Two of the three penalties were cut short by stupid Sabres penalties, though; Ott’s boarding play came while Buffalo had an advantage, and Hodgson was called for tripping only 41 seconds into a Marcus Kruger penalty in the second.
The Blackhawks power play was 1-5 in the game; Chicago has now scored a goal with a man advantage in four of the team’s first five games to start the season.