CALGARY – It was an enjoyable homecoming for Chicago left-winger Andrew Ladd.
Back at the Pengrowth Saddledome where he starred for two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, Ladd scored a goal and added two assists to lead the Blackhawks to a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames.
“It was awesome,” said Ladd, who has a career-high 32 points after posting 30 last year. “I’ve got a lot of great memories, lots of family and friends here. It was great to come back.”
Tied 2-2 after the first period, Adam Burish scored the go-ahead goal at 11:28 of the second after a stretch of sustained Chicago pressure.
Ladd worked the puck to Matt Walker at the Chicago blue-line and the defenceman’s shot was deflected past Miikka Kiprusoff from a sharp angle.
Ladd has gone 13 games without a goal before notching his ninth goal in the first period as Chicago twiced took one-goal leads only to see Calgary come back and tie it.
“My game’s all sorts of different things, it’s not just scoring,” said Ladd. “I thought I’ve been playing well in all areas and tonight I was happy to be able to chip in with some offence.”
David Bolland, Colin Fraser, and Troy Brouwer also scored for Chicago (29-13-8). Walker chipped in three assists after entering the night with just four assists in 37 games.
The Blackhawks improved to 4-1-0 through five stops of their eight-game road trip, the longest in the NHL this season.
Todd Bertuzzi and Dion Phaneuf replied for Calgary (30-17-4), which lost all four of its meetings with the Blackhawks this season. The Flames have lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time this season.
“We need to have better effort from everyone,” said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr. “We need to start winning one-on-one’s and puck battles, we need to be responsible with the puck, especially in our own zone. We’re allowing way too many chances whether it’s off the rush or allowing guys in the middle of the ice.”
Chicago is two points ahead of Calgary and owner of the third best record in the Western Conference, although the Flames are currently third in the official standings by virtue of being the Northwest Division leader. Calgary leads the division by nine points over the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers.
Captain Jarome Iginla and GM Darryl Sutter both held closed-door meetings with players Tuesday night after Calgary’s 3-1 loss in Dallas.
Calgary played a better first period against the Blackhawks on Thursday, rallying back to even the score twice. However, the game slipped away in the second when the Flames failed to capitalize on four power plays.
“We’ve got to be better as a group, we’ve got to work harder, and I’ve got to be a lot better,” aid Iginla, who was minus-4 on the night. “Being out there in those key situations, I’m not contributing enough.”
Twenty seconds after surrendering Burish’s even strength goal, Calgary got another great opportunity when Patrick Kane was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Daymond Langkow in the face.
However, Chicago’s aggressive penalty killing had Calgary on its heels and they struggled to get set up in the Blackhawks zone. Halfway through the man advantage, the sell-out crowd of 19,289 resorted to booing the home side for its ineffectiveness.
“That was huge. Obviously a double minor in a tight game is a big kill,” said Fraser. “It maybe generated a little momentum swing too because we ended up getting the fourth goal.”
Fraser made it 4-2 3:18 into the third period before Brouwer put the game away with a short-handed goal into an empty net at 17:52.
“We’re not doing the basic fundamentals of our game properly and that’s where the first breakdowns have occurred here in the last little while,” said Regehr. “If we do that, there will be other parts of our game that will fall into place.”
Chicago jumped out to an early lead when Bolland scored 42 seconds into the game.
Calgary tied it at 6:28 when Iginla’s perfect pass sprung Bertuzzi on a breakaway and the big winger faked a shot then went to his backhand to slide the puck behind Nikolai Khabibulin.
The Blackhawks regained the lead 17 seconds later when Bolland was first to a loose puck along the end boards and sent a pass into the slot to Ladd who one-timed a rocket past Kiprusoff.
“We physically dominated them,” Bolland said. “We knew it was going to be a tough one coming in here because the last time we beat them. We came out stronger and we did what we were told in the first 10 minutes, we came out and played hard and set the tone.”
Both teams finished up 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
Chicago held a 33-31 edge in shots.
Notes: Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet have alternated starts in the Chicago net since Khabibulin made consecutive starts Dec. 16 and Dec. 19… Carrying no extra healthy players, Calgary has iced the identical line-up the past six games including Kiprusoff, who has started 21 of the past 22 games… Chicago has won its last six trips to the Pengrowth Saddledome… Khabibulin improved his career record against the Flames to 22-5-2. He has beaten Calgary more than any other NHL team… Chicago beats Calgary in a season series for the first time since 2001-02.