The Chicago Blackhawks took care of business in a pair of weekend contests, grabbing four points from their guests from the Eastern Conference.
Neither victory was easy, but when the dust settled the Blackhawks came out with a couple of badly needed wins.
"One Goal" was the theme of the weekend—Chicago came out on top by that margin in both games. Friday's 3-2 win over the New York Islanders was probably a bit more impressive than the score would suggest. Two Islanders goals in the last minute of the first period made things more interesting than they should have been.
Rookie Joakim Nordstrom showed some improvement in his game, taking a sweet feed from fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson and potting his first NHL goal Friday. Michal Handzus, who was moved down to the fourth line by 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, scored the game-winner early in the second period.
The 'Hawks ran up a two-goal advantage Saturday against the winless Buffalo Sabres before backing off in the latter stages of the final period. Case in point—after outshooting Buffalo 37-16 in the first 40 minutes, Chicago sat back as the Sabres took 13 third-period shots to just three for the 'Hawks.
Ben Smith opened the scoring for Chicago on Saturday, redirecting a power-play shot by Brent Seabrook for his first goal of the season. Patrick Kane added a power-play goal late in the middle frame, and the 'Hawks made the two goals stand.
Smith helped set up Handzus Friday by beating the Islanders to a loose puck but has seemingly won a regular role on the fourth line for the time being. The Blackhawks sent Jimmy Hayes down to Rockford between Friday and Saturday's games.
Replacing Hayes on the Chicago roster is center Brandon Pirri, who should have made this team out of camp. Pirri spent a good portion of the preseason injured, so it may have done him some good to play a few games with the IceHogs before coming up. He had three points in Rockford's first three games.
Coach Joel Quenneville kept Pirri on a pretty short leash Saturday night.
He had just 9:29 minutes of ice time against the Sabres, most of which was spent with Smith and Brandon Bollig on the fourth line. Pirri was a plus-one on the evening and won six of 10 draws.
There is no telling if Quenneville is planning on giving Pirri minutes between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa in the future. His play was solid in what was a limited role. Like much of his 'Hawks career, he has yet to get a real shot at steady NHL minutes. That could change in the next couple of weeks.
I'd still like to see Jeremy Morin on this roster in place of Nordstrom, who, admittedly, had a solid weekend. Morin is more capable of playing the game the 'Hawks seem to have wanted from Hayes. He has puck skills and isn't afraid to mix it up in the corners.
'Hawks fans also got a look at the new backup in goal. Nikolai Khabibulin was in the crease Friday, picking up the win while stopping 17 of the 19 shots he faced.
The workload was a bit light for the veteran goalie, but he did his job, spelling Corey Crawford and helping secure the victory. Crawford responded to the night off with a 28-save performance against Buffalo that earned him the game's first star.
Among the positives Chicago can take from the weekend is the penalty kill, which was perfect in five chances. The Blackhawks bested both New York (35-30) and Buffalo (34-25) at the dot.
Chicago still trails Colorado and St. Louis in the Central Division. However, that gap isn't as wide as it was when the 'Hawks entered the weekend. Overall, the Blackhawks chalked up the results they needed in their first back-to-back games this season.