By Dave Vest
CHICAGO –Adrian Aucoin played 907 NHL games without taking part in an NHL shootout. Suddenly, he’s a shootout specialist on a hot streak.
Aucoin scored his second game-deciding shootout goal in the past two games Friday night to lead the Coyotes to a 2-1 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a sellout crowd at the United Center. The victory was Phoenix’s sixth in a row – a season high.
"Now I'm nervous," Aucoin joked when asked to explain his recent shootout success. "The first one was luck. Now it's actually a streak."
Coyotes backup goalie Jason LaBarbera made 28 saves in regulation and overtime, and then stopped two of three shots in the shootout.
Tied 1-1 after two rounds of the shootout, Aucoin, a former captain of the Blackhawks, skated in slowly on Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet and wristed a shot that Huet partially blocked with his glove but couldn’t contain. The puck dropped to the ice behind Huet and trickled over the line, and the Blackhawks were down to their last shot.
Chicago Head Coach Joel Quenneville called upon Marian Hossa to take that shot, but LaBarbera poked the puck away from him for the second time in the game (see KEY MOMENT below) to secure the victory.
Phoenix’s six-game winning streak is its longest since it won seven games in a row during the 2006-07 season. With a record of 35-18-5, the Coyotes have 17 more wins than losses for the first time in franchise history.
"We're trying to push this thing along as far as we can," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We all know there's a push before the (Olympic] break and a push after. We’re pushing hard before the break. Hopefully, we can continue to win.”
The game started well for Chicago (37-15-5). Center Colin Fraser gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 4:46 of the first period when he beat LaBarbera with Chicago’s fifth shot of the game. LaBarbera stopped a shot by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, but Fraser gained control of the rebound in the right circle and lifted the puck over LaBarbera’s glove and into the net.
The Coyotes pulled even when forward Radim Vrbata fired a power-play shot through traffic and past Huet at 16:42 of the second period. Petr Prucha screened Huet nicely on Vrbata’s goal, which came with 17 seconds left on Phoenix’s man advantage.
The Coyotes had a golden opportunity to take the lead early in the third period after Blackhawks defenseman Cam Barker was called for a double-minor hi-sticking penalty. Phoenix, however, struggled during the lengthy power play and didn’t threaten seriously to score.
Late in the overtime period, Chicago was awarded a power play after Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek was called for tripping. LaBarbera made a few key saves in the final 30 seconds that enabled the Coyotes to reach the shootout.
Robert Lang and Jonathan Toews scored goals in the first round of the shootout for Phoenix and Chicago, respectively.
"We were playing a top team and they do a lot of things well," Quenneville said. "We have to respect what the other team can do.”
Trailing 1-0, Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera made a save on a shorthanded breakaway shot by Chicago's Marian Hossa lwith 4:12 left in the second period to keep Phoenix within a goal. Hossa set up the scoring chance by blocking a shot by Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski in the Phoenix zone, corralling the loose puck in the neutral zone and then taking off toward LaBarbera with no defenders between them. LaBarbera poked the puck away from Hossa with his stick. Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata scored a power-play goal less than a minute later to even the score.
• Prior to Tuesday’s game at Nashville, defenseman Adrian Aucoin had never participated in a shootout in his career. He has now registered the shootout-deciding goal in each of the last two games, making him the first player in the history of the Coyotes to score the shootout-deciding goal in back-to-back games. "If you look at the stats, he was 1-for-1," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said after being asked why he chose Aucoin for the shootout again. "So why wouldn't you go with your highest percentage guy?"
• Center Robert Lang notched his fifth shootout goal of the season in the first round. That ties Lang with forward Lauri Korpikoski for the team lead in shootout goals. Korpikoski went second on Friday night but Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet blocked his shot with his stick.
• The goal by forward Radim Vrbata moved him into a tie with forward Scottie Upshall for the team lead in goals scored with 18. Upshall is out indefinitely because of a knee injury.
• Three of goalie Jason LaBarbera's five victories this season were earned in shootouts.
• Phoenix has allowed just one power-play goal during its six-game winning streak. In those games, the Coyotes have killed 15 of 16 shorthanded situations.
• The announced attendance on Friday was 22,169. That is the highest number of attendees at a Blackhawks home game this season.
• The Coyotes scratched Anders Eriksson and Joel Perrault. Chicago scratched Jordan Hendry and Tomas Kopecky.
"To be a top team you have to beat a great team like Chicago. They're young and they're going through some growing pains, but they're playing very well."
"I thought I was getting to my spots early. I got in position to make myself big and the puck was hitting me. Our (defensemen) did a great job, especially early, clearing rebounds."
"I don't know what's wrong with us. We've got to find a way to use that crowd and get energy going and talk to each other on the bench and recognize our mistakes and go out there and have better shifts afterward, and we're not doing that."