After an interesting off day for the Chicago Blackhawks, they’ll hit the ice again tonight when they host the Colorado Avalanche. It’s the first meeting of the regular season between these two Central Division foes, and while the Avs are currently in the Central Division basement, they know how to give the Blackhawks trouble.
The men in the Indian Head are coming off a 4-0 shutout of Vancouver on Sunday in which Corey Crawford was again stellar, and in which Patrick Kane extended his consecutive-games-with-a-point streak to 26. They’re also coming off a trade of defenseman Trevor Daley for Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi. More on this later.
The Avalanche have been playing better of late, going 6-4-0 in their last 10 outings. They most recently defeated the St. Louis Blues on the road on Sunday, and they’re just a point out of sixth place in the Central as the Winnipeg Jets continue to circle the drain.
Let’s take a look at the prospective Blackhawks and Avalanche lineups tonight, starting with Chicago.
Rob Scuderi-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford-Scott Darling
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I’m not even sure where to start with that third defensive pairing. Joel Quenneville has already said his plan is to put the 36-year-old Scuderi and the 37-year-old Rozsival together. This would be the oldest pairing to ever defend something since Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill banded together in World War II. The only way you could make the Blackhawks defense slower at this point is by sending down Keith and calling up Viktor Svedberg. We’ve already discussed how the Scuderi-for-Daley move is more than a straight-up swap, but actually utilizing Scuderi in this way makes me wish the weather would get cold again, because the mushrooms in Coach Q’s backyard are growing way too well.
Of course, that pairing could be over after after five seconds, especially against a speedy Colorado outfit. If that happens, one of the two elder statesmen will get tossed with Keith. The other will probably get thrown with TVR, and the two will ride the pine most of the game. We’ll see how this plays out, but I think we’ve actually found a situation in which having David Rundblad out of the lineup is a hindrance to the Blackhawks.
The forward lines appear to be staying in place after a four-goal outing (three, considering one was an empty-netter) against the Canucks. Ryan Garbutt continues to be benched, while Mashinter is never leaving the lineup after scoring a goal in garbage time. It was his first career NHL tally though, so good for him.
Crow will get the call again tonight, and hopefully he won’t be asked to stand on his head all night. Of course, with a Scuderi-Rozsival pairing, Crow’s prayers for some defensive support will probably fall on deaf ears.
On to the Avalanche.
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If you manage to shut down Colorado’s first line, you’ve won half the battle. Duchene, MacKinnon and Landeskog lead the team in points with 27, 26 and 22, respectively. Soderberg is the only other one in the 20s with an even 20. Barrie and Beauchemin are solid point producers from the blue line, but Beauchemin isn’t a true first-pairing defenseman, and Barrie gets his head caved in possession-wise on a nightly basis. Iginla is still hopping around here and will get into a random fight if need be.
Varlamov was nothing better than hot garbage to start the season, but he’s come on strong of late. We know the Blackhawks have been robbed by him before, so the key should be to make him as uncomfortable as possible in net. With his history of lower-body injuries, that also means making him move side to side, as well as up and down, as often as possible.
Let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch in tonight’s affair.
Nov 13, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wingMatt Calvert
(11) skates with the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi (4) defends during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Blue Jackets won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
He shouldn’t be too hard to spot during this game, as he’ll be the slowest-moving guy on the ice each time his number is called. Scuderi is going to be defensively responsible, certainly more so than Daley, but the issue is him losing races to pucks and getting pushed off them. If he and Rozsival really stay together for the entire game, the plan is really simple for Scuderi: Make clean passes as quickly and as simply as possible, and don’t play outside yourself. If Scuderi tries to show Q and Co. he has something more than he actually does, the Avs are probably going to make him pay for it. Scuderi will also be used on the penalty kill, apparently, so it should be interesting to see how he fits in there. He can certainly be used to block shots, as he isn’t going to be able to get out of the way of most of them.
Dec 11, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) skates with the puck as Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom (39) defends during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
While Toews is carrying the Blackhawks to respectability at the faceoff dot, the Avalanche can’t say they have someone doing that. Toews’ 60.8 percent conversion rate has the Blackhawks at 50.4 percent as a team, while Colorado is one of the worst faceoff teams in the league at 48.3 percent. Enter Anisimov, who is a miserable 44.2 percent at the dot right now. This would be a fantastic opportunity for Anisimov to get some confidence going in faceoffs, while also setting up the Blackhawks for success. If Anisimov can just win a few more draws tonight than he normally does, he has Kane and Panarin ready to set up a goal-scoring effort just about every time. If you can overwhelm the Avs early and at home, this game may be out of reach by the time the second period starts.
Dec 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) is defended by Vancouver Canucks defensemanMatt Bartkowski
(44) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Do you feel like Hossa is due for a goal? I feel like he is. He has a goal and two assists in his last eight games, but it seems the hockey gods are teasing Hossa. He’s gotten numerous breakaways (something he’s had trouble converting as a Blackhawk), and he’s put four or more shots on net in five of the last eight games. If Q can get the Toews line out against weaker Avalanche competition, Hossa could have a good evening. While you may think a speedy team would play against Hossa, he’s proven he can keep up with the best of them at age 36, so I don’t see that being an issue. Really, it’s just a matter of conversion. I think Hossa converts tonight and gets off on a hot streak as the Blackhawks enter a weak portion of their schedule.