Dec 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) is pursued by Colorado Avalanche right wing Marc-Andre Cliche (24) in the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The first year divisional foes, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche have split the first two of the 5 game, season series between, the two teams. If the season ended today, both teams would be advancing to the playoffs, so tonight’s game should be a highly competitive one.
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Statistically speaking, this is a very even matchup, with perhaps a slight edge going to the Blackhawks. Both teams are towards the top of the NHL, in goals for, but even so, the Blackhawks still score significantly more often. When it comes to goals against, both teams are around average, with a slight edge going to the Avalanche. Where the Avs have a significant advantage, is save percentage, but that is an advantage that might be slightly deceiving, since they are around average, in goals against per game. What this tells us is that the Avs aren’t so great defensively, but are often bailed out by their goaltenders.
When it comes to special teams, are near average, in both categories, which is in reality, a pretty good place to be. The Hawks, on the other hand, are sort of bipolar, when it comes to special teams. excellent, on the Power Play, but terrible, on the Penalty Kill. The key to the Blackhawks’ success, in tonight’s game, is the possession stats. In both Faceoff Winning Percentage, and Corsi For Percentage, they are vastly superior, to Colorado. This is likely the area that Coach Q will likely try to exploit, while Colorado Head Coach, Patrick Roy, will likely try to exploit and punish the Hawks, when they cough up the puck, and make them pay, for their turnovers.
The Avalanche are newcomers to the contender role, as they have vastly improved, this season. They are currently in 3rd place, in the Central Division, with a record of 28-12-5, good for 61 points, on the season. After a scorching hot start, to the season, the Avs have fallen back to earth a bit, and are 5-2-3, in their last 10 games. Colorado has some of the most depth at the center position, in the entire NHL.
Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O’Reilly are all having great seasons, as well as 1st overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon, who is having a fantastic rookie season. Gabriel Landeskog is having his finest season, so far, in his young NHL career. These players mentioned, bring blinding speed, to the game, and an be very difficult to deal with, as they make teams seriosly pay for their mistakes, and are excellent at turning opponent turnovers into goals.
In net, Semyon Varlamov has had a fantastic season, and is arguably the biggest reason, for the surprising success, of this season’s Avalanche. In 35 games played, Varlamov has put up a wonderful save percentage of .926.
The Blackhawks are currently in 1st place, in the Central Division, however they have only a 3 point advantage, over the 2nd place St. Louis Blues, and they have played 4 more games, than the Blues. Even if 1st place is a bit of a mirage, it doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks are having a fantastic season, even if they are a modest(by Chicago standards) 5-1-4, in their last 10 games.
The Patricks, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are both having explosive offensive seasons, and are propelling one of the NHL’s most elite offensive attacks, while playing on separate lines. Jonathan Toews puts up nearly as much offense, as the Patricks, but he also plays one of the best defensive games, in the league. Duncan Keith is on pace to win his 2nd Norris Trophy, of his career, while putting up enough points, to be a top six forward, and has an elite defensive game, to go along with it.
In net, will be Corey Crawford, who has played some of his best hockey, since returning from injury. On the season, Crawford has played in 31 games, to a solid .911 save percentage.
The Avalanche are hoping to prove that they belong in the Central Division elite, conversation, with the Blackhawks and the Blues. Beating the Blackhawks would be the perfect way to accomplish that. The Blackhawks are trying to put their recent skid even further in their rear view mirror, and beating a hungry team, like the Avalanche, would be the perfect way to accomplish that. It should be a good game!