The Chicago Blackhawks will be away from home until December 3rd, as they begin their annual “Circus Trip” against their new Central Division Rivals, the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche got off to a soaring start to the season, but have started to come back to earth a little bit, as their Corsi For Percentage indicated would most likely happen. They still have a very solid, but not totally sustainable all-around game, this season. A team with that low of faceoff and Corsi For Percentages will, in all likelihood, not be able to remain in the top-5 in both Goals For, and Goals Against. The Avs’ are where they are due to solid play combined with excellent goaltending.
The Blackhawks have been as expected, a puck possessing, goal scoring juggernaut. However, the Hawks have struggled defensively, as they have allowed far too many goals, and along with the 29th ranked Penalty Kill, appear to be on their way back to respectable ranks. The Penalty Kill has vastly improved as of late, and even though the Blackhawks allowed 7 goals to the Nashville Predators, they only allowed 1 goal to the San Jose Sharks, in their previous 2 games, respectively. So, while they continue to pile up goals, consistently, the Hawks are still searching for consistency in the goals allowed department.
The Avalanche recent 3-game slide, and their “return to earth” is largely in part due to Matt Duchene‘s injury. Duchene is expected to miss about a week, so the Avs will have to learn to make due without him, if they don’t want to far behind in the highly competitive Central Division. Without Duchene, the Avs will look to their other young, up and coming stars, in Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’reilly, and Nathan MacKinnon to pick up the slack. The Avs are a young, fast team, that seem to be finding a consistent and collective scoring touch, this season. In the past, they have given the Blackhawks fits.
As mentioned earlier, the Colorado’s superb goaltending has been their biggest reason for success, this season. Semyon Varlamov may find trouble off the ice, but he has had a fantastic start to the season, even though he has started to cool off a bit, he has been great for the Avalanche, this season. Varlamov has had great relief, in the form of J.S Giguere. The two netminders, have been the NHL’s most effective netminding due, so far, this season.
The Blackhawks rebounded from a disappointing blowout, in Nashville, by returning to Chicago for a blowout of their own, over San Jose. Scoring was always going to be the Hawks thing, but it’s coming from all over the roster. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp are contributing points, as they are expected to. It’s the scoring depth, however, that has put the Hawks over the top. The Hawks have seemingly found their long coveted 2nd line center, in rookie Brandon Pirri, who has 5 points in his last 4 games. Brandon Saad has elevated his game to a World-Class level, this season, and the addition of Kris Versteeg will give(once Marian Hossa returns from injury) the Hawks arguable the most potent 3rd line, in the NHL.
Goaltending has become somewhat of a concern, for the Hawks. Corey Crawford has done a great job, this season, but he is being over worked, due to the struggles, and now injury to backup, Nikolai Khabibulin. Crawford will need his rest, from time to time, and hopefully recent call-up Antti Raanta will allow him to take a consistent breather, every now and then.
This early season matchup of 2 early season contenders, will be the first of 4, between the new Central Division foes. Time will tell, if this game will have playoff implications, but for right now, the landscape of the top of the Central Division is up for grabs. It should be a great game!