GLENDALE, Ariz. – If the NHL season had started in October, it would have started without Marian Hossa.
Almost seven months after a serious concussion suffered in a hit from Phoenix’s Raffi Torres in the Western Conference Quarterfinals last April, Chicago’s high-scoring winger was just getting on the ice. And when he finally was cleared in mid-November, it was a slow transition to the speed of the game.
Two months later, hockey is back and so is Hossa – and he’s proving it. He followed up a two-goal game in Los Angeles with two more goals Sunday; both came during a flurry of four straight Chicago goals in a 6-4 revenge win against the Phoenix team that ended their 2011-12 season earlier than expected.
Torres came out with his Phoenix teammates for the unveiling of the first division title banner in franchise history, but he still had seven games left on his suspension for his illegal hit on Hossa in Game 4 of the playoff series. But Hossa is back and made his presence felt on the scoresheet, scoring what proved to be the game-winner 14 seconds into the third period.
"I felt good off the ice biking and doing the strength. But when I got on the ice it was a little different," he said. "The brain had to adjust to so many movements, so many players, such a fast pace … when I was doing it I didn’t feel myself. I’m glad I had time to be prepared. By [January], my head was clear and I wasn’t afraid to go into the corners."
Dave Bolland added two goals and an assist and Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg added one each during a four-goal outburst over a 10:24 span of the second and third periods as Chicago built a 5-2 lead and then held on. The Blackhawks have put up 11 goals in road wins over the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and Pacific Division champion Coyotes to start the season – four by Hossa.
"He’s has been great and he’s playing the same Hossa game he’s always played. He’s one of the best players in the League," Bolland said. "Going back to what happened last year, this was a special night for him, to come back and put some goals up."
While Chicago is off to a 2-0-0 start while beginning a season-opening stretch in which it plays 10 of its first 12 games on the road, the Coyotes are quickly 0-2-0 in this shortened season, with goalie Mike Smith and their vaunted defense allowing 10 goals. Phoenix captain Shane Doan scored in his 1,200th NHL game and Dave Moss, Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal added goals against shaky Chicago backup goalie Ray Emery, but two early one-goal Coyote leads were swallowed up quickly by the Blackhawks.
"It’s great to score goals, but when you’re giving up six goals, or four goals [in a 4-3 loss at Dallas Saturday] it will not bring success to this group," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Giving up breakaways and making mistakes like that … that’s not how we’re gonna play and that’s not how we’re gonna win."
The Coyotes led 1-0 and 2-1 thanks to goals by Moss and Vermette – one a soft goal Emery would have liked back and another on a rebound coughed up in the slot. But Phoenix couldn't keep the momentum going for long either time as errors, turnovers and poor decisions played right into Chicago’s hands.
After getting only two shots in the first 10 minutes of the period, Chicago responded with an artful goal to begin its flurry. On the rush, Bolland slipped a short pass to Sharp in stride, and Sharp picked the far top corner over Smith's blocker at 9:50. Hossa gave Chicago its first lead at 17:34 with a wrister from the slot, and Stalberg found the short side 50 seconds later to make it 4-2.
Smith made 23 saves but put the blame for the loss on his shoulders. "We had unacceptable goaltending in both games and there’s no excuse for it," he said. "I’m letting down the whole team and if you score seven goals in two games you should win both of them. We need to clean up our game in some areas but it starts with me and I haven’t been good enough. Goals are going in from all over the ice. It’s deflating to the team and it’s got to stop."
Hossa's second goal -- a backhander that squeezed between Smith and the post -- came just 14 seconds into the third period and gave the Hawks a three-goal lead. The Coyotes rallied with goals by Hanzal and Doan 50 seconds apart to cut the lead to one goal with 14:32 left, but Bollard popped a pretty Sharp feed up and over Smith just 22 seconds after Doan's goal to restore breathing room.
The Hawks played without left wing Daniel Carcillo, who missed the second half of last season due to left knee surgery and is expected to miss a month with after injuring his right knee in the third period of Saturday's game.