Jan 14, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Brad Malone (42) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) go for the puck during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The Colorado Avalanche are one of this season’s biggest surprise contenders, especially when considering the fact that this is the first year that they are playing in the highly competitive Central Division. Since they are contenders, in the Central Division, they could very easily wind up facing the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, in one of the earlier rounds, of the post-season.
Here’s how they matchup, statistically.
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Statistically, the advantage has to go to the Blackhawks, in this one. The Avalanche are right with the Blackhawks, in most categories, but have had much more success, with goaltending this season. Both teams are in elite offensively, and both teams are solid at keeping pucks out of their own nets. While both teams are also great, on the Power Play, overall this season neither team has been all-around successful, on the Penalty Kill. Having said that, the Blackhawks PK unit has been much improved, lately, as they went 6 for 6, in killing penalties, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who employ the league’s top Power Play unit.
Possession-wise, the Hawks have a big advantage, especially in Corsi For. As long as they don’t turn the puck over, in clutch areas, of the ice, the Hawks should be able to grab 2 points, tonight.
The Avalanche are currently in 3rd place, in the Central Division, holding a record of 39-17-5, good for 83 points, which is only 3 points behind the shared division lead, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues.
Colorado is a team known for it’s dangerous speed, that can strike at unexpected times, and that combined with excellent goaltending, the Avs are contenders, for the Central Division crown. The Avs have ridiculous depth, at forward, with scoring threats, on every line, in the likes of Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O’Reilly. Captain, Gabriel Landeskog is one of their biggest scoring threats, and figures to be for a very long time.
As I mentioned earlier, the success of the Avalanche has largely been thanks to their top-knotch goaltending, mainly from Semyon Varlamov. In 48 games played, this season, Varlamov has put up an incredible save percentage of .925.
The Blackhawks will be excited to be back on the United Center ice, for the first time since January 26th. This season, the Blackhawks are 36-12-14, good for 86 points, which has them tied for 1st, with the St. Louis Blues, and as mentioned earlier, only 3 points ahead of the 3rd place Avalanche.
Tonight will be the 1st of several games, the Hawks will be without Marian Hossa, who will be out 2-3 weeks, with an upper body injury. With Hossa out, Brandon Saad will be asked to step up, in his absence, and play a Hossa’s role. The Hawks should be fine, as they are coming off the momentum of a big victory, in the Stadium Series game, at Soldier Field. With 2 goals, in that game, Jonathan Toews looks to be rounding himself into playoff form. Same goes for Patrick Kane, who only had one assist, he hit the post, 3 times, in the Stadium Series game, narrowly missing 3 goals.
In net, Corey Crawford will likely be getting the start, tonight. In 44 games played, this season, Crawford has put up a very good .918 save percentage.
With only 3 points separating these two Central Division contenders, tonight’s game, as well as next week’s game, to be played in Colorado, are going to be very important, as a total of 4 points, are on the table, for both teams, in their next two matchups. Exciting divisional playoff race hockey, down the stretch, of the season. It doesn’t get much better than this.