Hawks’ special teams no longer a liability

CHICAGO – The Blackhawks’ penalty-killing unit proved to be a weakness last season.

Not anymore.

The Hawks’ penalty killers went 6 for 6 Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings and improved to 22 for 23 on the season. By stifling the Wings’ power-play unit, the Hawks earned a 2-1 overtime win and improved to 6-0-0 for the first time in franchise history.

“I think that’s what won us the game tonight,” said Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who stopped 29-of-30 shots to improve to 5-0-0 this season. “The [penalty kill] in the second period was really good.”

The Hawks killed off two penalties in the first period and four penalties in the second period. That included a 5-on-3 advantage for 43 seconds in the second period when both Marcus Kruger and Brent Seabrook served penalties.

Crawford said his teammates helped him in net by steering the puck to the boards.

“We’re able to force teams to the outside,” Crawford said. “It seems like every time someone tries to come through the middle, we’re able to cut it off or get a stick on it. And our guys came up with some big blocks tonight on the ‘PK.’ ”

Block party: Crawford wasn’t kidding about his teammates blocking shots.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Seabrook blocked four shots apiece against the Wings to tie for the team lead.

Dirty work is nothing new for the Hawks’ defensemen. Seabrook leads all NHL players with 19 blocked shots this season, while Hjalmarsson is third in the league with 16.

Not the same: Something was missing as the Hawks and Red Wings renewed their rivalry.

Longtime defenseman Niklas Lidstrom, who spent 20 seasons with the Red Wings from 1991-92 to 2011-2012, was not on the ice. The future Hall of Famer retired at the end of last season after playing in 1,564 games, which ranks No. 10 in NHL history.

Lidstrom played 119 career games against the Blackhawks, which trailed only the St. Louis Blues (121 games) as his most common opponent. During his career against the Hawks, Lidstrom notched 30 goals, 58 assists and a plus-25 rating.

Hawks bits: Forward Brandon Bollig and defenseman Michael Rozsival were healthy scratches as teammates Jamal Mayers and Sheldon Brookbank remained in the lineup. … Nick Leddy’s overtime goal marked the first game-winner of his three-year career.

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