The last week has not been kind to the Colorado Avalanche. Three straight losses, including two defeats at the hands of league laughingstocks the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers, as well as a drubbing by the St. Louis Blues, may have Avalanche fans wondering how this team got off to its tremendous start. And it doesn’t get any better. The Avs host the ‘Hawks and then get the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings before a rematch with the Blues. Seven straight losses are not out of the question. But there is a reason that this team was in first place in the western conference for much of the season and that is their ability to play two-way hockey better than most teams in the league. Center Matt Duchene out for tonight’s contest and the next week or so, the Avalanche will need other players to step it up. Here are three Avalanche players to watch in tonight’s contest:
1. Paul Stastny -With leading scorer Duchene sidelined, Stastny must elevate his game to help pull the Avs out of this slump. Stastny needs support from his teammates to carry the offense, but he has the ability to shoulder the entire load for a game here and there. Look for the ‘Hawks to take Stastny out of this game early and try and make some of the Avs younger players beat them in this key western conference matchup.
2. Nathan MacKinnon - Speaking of Avalanche young players, none has had the impact that MacKinnon has had so far in the 2013-2014 season. The rookie has flashed outstanding play-making abilities and he is the guy that can really get this offense going without Duchene. MacKinnon is still quite young and lacks the consistency that some of his elder teammates use as their calling cards, but the more he plays, the more obvious that he is the most adept passer on this Avalanche squad.
3. Erik Johnson - He doesn’t jump off the stat page but Johnson is one of the better defensemen in the western conference. He is having his best statistical season this year, and he always manages to play physical and usually pairs up against the opponents top line. The defense has struggled mightily in the Avs last three games, and Johnson will need to have a good game against this tenacious Blackhawks attack to help prevent the Avs from dropping their fourth straight.
Honorable Mention – The Ghost of Steve Downie- If we went back in time and Downie was never traded for Maxime Talbot, then he never breaks his hand in his first game with the Philadelphia Flyers, and then never feels the need to haunt his former Avalanche brethren. I believe he is tormenting this Avs team from the Greater Philadelphia area since he was traded for locker room reasons. Meanwhile, Talbot has zero points in his eight games with the Avs and has a plus/minus rating of -3. Do not upset the ghost of Steve Downie.
The Avs can really use a win tonight at home against the Blackhawks, who since acquiring Kris Versteeg, are now throwing even more waves of players at their opponents than they were just one week ago. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has struggled as of late and it will be interesting to see if he or Jean-Sebatien Giguere gets the start in net this evening.
The Colorado Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks at 9 PM EST.