Dec 9, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche centerMatt Duchene
(9) celebrates his first period goal with teammates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Tuesday: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago, NBC Sports Network)
This is the last game of 2015 for the Blackhawks that’ll be on NBC Sports Network (barring a late switch), and it’s certainly an odd pick. But as I mentioned above, the Avs have been pretty effective away from home, so this one could be better than expected. Also, the Avs have given the Blackhawks hell for the past couple years.
A prime reason for this, as with the Oilers (next opponent, duh), they can match speed with the Blackhawks. Young and fast guys like Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie aren’t easy to shut down. The Avs, however, have done a great job at shutting down themselves this season, as they’;; carry a far-and-away-league-worst 43.4 team Corsi-for percentage into this game. The next-worst figure is Ottawa’s 46.3 percent.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped guys like Duchene (15 goals, 12 assists), MacKinnon (10 goals, 16 assists) and Landeskog (7 goals, 15 assists) from seeing success. Offseason acquisitions Carl Soderberg (20 points) and Francois Beauchemin (16) are making an impact, while Jarome Iginla (16 points) is still ticking along, despite a team-worst minus-10 rating.
Semyon Varlamov is starting to pick up the pace again after a rough first couple months. He still stands at 9-8-1, .909, 2.75, so he’s beatable. And it doesn’t help that Colorado rarely has the puck. Varlamov has stolen games from the Blackhawks in the past, but the more shots you can get at a guy, the less likely that is to occur.
Dec 11, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a third period goal by forwardLauri Korpikoski
(28) against the New York Rangers at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Thursday: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
Something strange is happening in Edmonton. Despite the loss of Connor McDavid a while back, the Oilers are starting to win — and they’re winning big. The Oil have won five straight games before their tilt tonight against Boston, and they scored at least two goals each time. They beat Dallas 2-1 and the Rangers 7-5 in that stretch. Sure, all five games were at home, but it’s something for a young team that hasn’t seen much success at the NHL level.
Keying it is Taylor Hall, who was named the NHL’s second star of the previous week. He is the only Oiler with double-digit goals (14) and more than 19 assists (20). Leon Draisaitl, who pantsed multiple Blackhawks the last time these teams met, is still impressive with 9 goals and 17 assists. From there, things get a little cockeyed. Hall is a plus-15, and Draisaitl is a plus-12. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is third on the team in points with 20, is a minus-7. Benoit Pouliot, fifth on the team in points, is a minus-10. Jordan Eberle, who missed some time with injury, is a team-worst minus-12.
So things certainly aren’t perfect in Edmonton despite recent success, and that can be chalked up to a young defensive group and bad goaltending. Guys who should be maturing in the AHL (Darnell Nurse and maybe Brandon Davidson, as well as Griffin Reinhart before he was demoted) are being forced into NHL duty, while so-so NHL defensemen like Andrej Sekera and Eric Gryba are being asked to play bigger roles. Max Talbot lost his starting job in net with awful numbers (3-8-1, .889, 3.17), and Anders Nilsson is doing his best to pick up the slack (10-7-1, .917, 2.65). But winning isn’t easy in Edmonton.
Dec 10, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defensemanRasmus Ristolainen
(55) celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday: Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, noon (WGN)
We get our first look at Jack Eichel and the new-look Sabres, who feel like the old-look Sabres with their current standing. Things could certainly be worse — they could be the Maple Leafs — but the Sabres are second-to-last in the Atlantic and fourth-to-last in the league right now, so the youth movement hasn’t hit full swing yet.
Offseason pickup Ryan O’Reilly was certainly a good get, though. He’s leading the team in goals (10) and assists (17). After Rasmus Ristolainen’s 22 points, however, things fall off the table a bit from a scoring perspective. Eichel is tied for third with 14 points, while veterans like Matt Moulson, Cody Franson, Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis, David Legwand and Evander Kane haven’t impressed (Ennis and Kane have missed games with injuries).
The blue line is a mishmash of sub-par NHLers, with Ristolainen and Josh Georges expected to led the way. The goaltending situation was a mess from the get-go, as Robin Lehner got injured on opening night and hasn’t played since. He’s due back soon, but the Linus Ullmark–Chad Johnson tandem has been hit-and-miss trying to cover for Lehner.
December 12, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer instructs his team in a huddle during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at SAP Center at San Jose. The Wild defeated the Sharks 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday: San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks, 6 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
The Blackhawks get another back-to-back in which they have one game on the road and the second back home. It’s not the Jets waiting at the United Center this time, though. It’ll be the Sharks, who have struggled even worse than the Jets.
After a strong start, the Sharks are around .500 and 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Martin Jones has been entirely fine in net, posting 12-10-1, .918 and 2.29 stats. So what’s the issue? The Sharks don’t score nearly enough. They do have four guys with 20 or more points, led by Joe Pavelski with 26. But their depth scoring is sluggish (the Blackhawks can relate) and isn’t getting the job done.
Joe Thornton, who isn’t a depth scorer, has just 16 points so far. Tomas Hertl boasts 13, CHICAGO BOY Tommy Wingels has just eight, while Matt Nieto has seven. And it’s all downhill from there. Unlike the Avs and Oilers, the Sharks’ problems aren’t on the back end: They’re front and center with the offense.
So, we all agree the Blackhawks should get eight points this week? Yes. Six would be the acceptable minimum against this motley crew.