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Coyotes 4, Blackhawks 1: Hawks look like snore losers

Phoenix goalie Mike Smith pokes puck away from Hawks winger Andrew Brunette first period Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes NHL

Phoenix goalie Mike Smith pokes the puck away from Hawks winger Andrew Brunette in the first period of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Phoenix Coyotes NHL game November 29, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 1, 2012 8:23AM

The United Center was roaring early on. The Blackhawks faithful loudly welcomed the team home from a long road trip, and the Hawks seemed to draw some energy from it with a decent start.

And then the Phoenix Coyotes put everyone to sleep.

In the end, the Hawks gave the crowd few things to get excited about. Ray Whitney had a goal and two assists, and Daymond Langkow, Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata also scored as the Coyotes made easy work of the Hawks in a 4-1 victory Tuesday.

Mike Smith made 24 saves, but Corey Crawford didn’t finish, stopping 17 of 21 shots before getting replaced by Ray Emery in the third period.

For the Hawks, who were kicking off a friendly portion of the schedule (10 of their next 14 games are at the United Center), it was a significant step back after winning two straight to close out their erratic six-game road trip, where they said the need to play with energy was the No. 1 lesson they learned.

“We’re excited to be home after a couple of weeks,” said forward Patrick Sharp, who scored a power-play goal with 42.9 seconds left. “There’s no way that we should pack it in like that.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said he wanted to “make [the matchup with the Coyotes] like a road game.”

In other words, with the Hawks coming off a long trip, he didn’t want to see the typical letdown on home ice, also calling it a “dangerous game.” Despite the warning, the letdown happened.

“We obviously didn’t play the way we wanted to,” forward Patrick Kane said. “A lot of pucks came by us, a lot of turnovers. It was not a good game overall by us. For whatever reason it is, that game always seems to be a tough one. There’s really no explanation for it or reason for it.”

A grind-it-out, slow-things-down team such as the Coyotes only made matters worse. It was the perfect storm for a dull game.

After outshooting the Coyotes 5-0 early on in the first period, the Hawks’ momentum came to a halt as Phoenix gave them problems in the neutral zone and with the forecheck. It took the Hawks almost 10 minutes to get their first shot on goal in the second period. Smith was rarely tested.

Langkow gave Phoenix a 1-0 lead at 15:53 in the first with a shot that trickled through Crawford, and Doan made it 2-0 halfway through the second period during a Coyotes breakout. There was no response from the Hawks in the third period — only two more goals from the Coyotes in the first 5:02 before Sharp’s meaningless goal.

“We had a decent start, but they played that perfect checking game and frustrated us,” Quenneville said. “It wasn’t pretty. There were a couple of shifts [in the third period] where there looked like there was some [energy], but it wasn’t enough for me. . . . I thought we were really weak in the puck area.”

The Hawks fell into the Coyotes’ preferred pace and struggled mightily to get out of it. The Hawks didn’t get a power-play opportunity until late in the third, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was a team-worst minus-3.

“Give Phoenix some credit,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘They played a good, smart game. We could have been better in all three zones.”

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