CHICAGO – Even when they aren’t at their best, the Chicago Blackhawks find a way to win—and Viktor Stalberg made sure of that on Monday night.
Stalberg scored two goals, Corey Crawford made 37 saves and the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1.
Marian Hossa added a goal and an assist, and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks, who are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and lead the NHL with 50 points.
Stalberg has scored goals in three straight games and has four goals and three assists during a four-game points streak. Both of his two-goal games this season have been against Columbus, and the 6-foot-3, 25-year-old forward was the most visible player on the ice against Columbus.
“He’s improving, more so his patience with the puck, his awareness,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “He’s got a great shot, great speed.”
Stalberg, acquired in a trade from Toronto in June 2010, seems to be finding himself in his second season with Chicago.
“I think I’m playing all right,” Stalberg said. “The puck is coming to me now; guys seem to be finding me. We’ve got a pretty good chemistry.”
Crawford lost a bid for his first shutout this season when Columbus defenceman James Wisniewski scored at 3:09 of the third period. Crawford was sharp, especially early on, in his second straight start following a string of six consecutive starts by backup Ray Emery.
Steve Mason blocked 18 shots for Columbus, which lost its fifth straight and has yet to win in regulation on the road this season. The Blue Jackets, who outplayed the Blackhawks in spurts, have a league-worst 22 points.
“With (Jeff) Carter back in their lineup, they had a little more jump in their game” Crawford said. “We couldn’t take them lightly.
“When a team at the bottom of the standings comes to your building, even though you want to sometimes, it creeps into your head it’s going to be an easy game.”
Hossa extended his points streak to eight games and has five goals and nine assists during the stretch. Sharp has points in 11 of his last 12 games, with nine goals and six assists in that span.
Hossa and Sharp, who rank among the NHL’s top scorers, exploited Columbus’ coverage breakdowns.
“We’re back to doing some of the things we did early in the year,” said Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel. “We were doing a lot of good things through a long period of time and now (defensive coverage) certainly wasn’t there tonight in the second period
“It’s an area we had improved on and now it’s back to square one.”
Columbus outshot sluggish Chicago 13-5 in the scoreless first period.
The Blackhawks failed to convert two power plays early in the first, managing just one shot on each advantage. Then the Blue Jackets took charge and created several close-in chances against Crawford, including one by R.J. Umberger when he skated in alone following a turnover.
“We couldn’t take advantage and score any goals,” Wisniewski said. “But it’s been broken record this year. A great first period, but not a full 60 minutes, so not a great game.”
Chicago got rolling in the second and led 3-0 after 40 minutes.
Sharp opened the scoring at 4:48 with a pinpoint deflection of Hossa’s feed to complete a give-and-go.
After Sharp dished the puck to Hossa on the left wing boards, Sharp drove to the net against Columbus defenceman Marc Methot. Although Sharp appeared to be covered, Hossa managed to bank the puck off the blade of Sharp’s stick and past Mason.
Stalberg made it 2-0 at 8:13, capping a flashy individual effort. He carried the puck into the Columbus zone on the right wing, then turned and retreated up the boards. He turned again, drove to the net and fired his own rebound past Mason.
Stalberg got his second goal on a screened shot from the left circle with 4:12 left in the second to extend the Blackhawks’ lead to 3-0. He ripped a one-timer through traffic after taking a pass from Dave Bolland.
Wisniewski made it 3-1 at 3:09 of the third, shovelling in a shot from the slot after taking a feed from Derek MacKenzie, who had corralled a rebound of Mark Letestu’s shot.
Crawford made a couple of tough saves in a few shaky minutes by the Blackhawks following Wisniewski’s goal.
Hossa’s power-play goal completed the scoring with 4:15 left. He connected from the edge of the crease after taking a pass from Bolland.
Notes: Blackhawks LW Dan Carcillo sat out his fifth game with an upper-body injury, believed to be a concussion. He skated on Monday for the first time in 10 days. … Chicago C Marcus Kruger returned after missing one game after taking a hit to the head from Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland in a game last week. … The Blackhawks recalled C Brandon Pirri from Rockford of the AHL on Monday to take Kruger’s roster spot. Pirri has been shuttling between Chicago and Rockford. … Columbus LW Kristian Huselius (lower-body injury) missed his eighth game.