After a weekend of skill, speed and John Scott, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the NHL, are back action Tuesday night. The ‘Hawks will open up the “second half” in Colorado against the Avalanche. Matt Duchene for the Avs and Patrick Kane for the ‘Hawks will both be catching flights back from Nashville to be on the ice for this one. A quick look at the standings will show that the Avalanche have the first wild card spot in the west, and fourth spot in the division, seven points behind the St. Louis Blues. So, let’s take a quick look at the first game for the ‘Hawks since a stinker last Tuesday in Carolina.
The Avalanche went into the all-star break with a 9-5 record in the month of January. They scored 34 goals through 14 games during that month, which is surprisingly standard for the Avalanche, who sit fifth in the league in the goals for statistic with 143 through 52 games (2.75 goals per game). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the top line for the Avs is one of the most underrated lines in hockey. Whenever people from around the league talk about the best lines or players, they always go straight to Dallas’ top line, Chicago’s second line or the Capitals’ top line. But the line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene in Colorado is, in my opinion, the best line in the league behind Dallas’ top line. The line has 118 points combined, and is full of young and extremely fast players who push the pace all game long to get defensemen on their heels.
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The only thing that sort of throws a wrench in this line is the fact that head coach Patrick Roy has been putting Alex Tanguay on the top line, pushing Landeskog down to the second line, which is still a very dangerous line to be fair. But Tanguay, 36, has been up on the first line for the past couple weeks, and the rational does make sense. Matt Duchene, 25, and Nathan MacKinnon, 20, are two of the best skaters and scorers in the league, but are extremely young. A savvy veteran like Tanguay on that line will help those two players grow up in their play, and will help them keep their heads straight when the post season run starts to heat up in March and April. That being said, the speed of the line is definitely decreased exponentially with the addition of Tanguay, but it has not really dropped of the offensive production as the top line is still scoring with no problem.
As for the defense on this Avalanche team, it is bad. They sit 25th in the league with 142 goals against, which is terrible considering that Semyon Varlomov is not a very bad goalie. He is just pretty average, and the only way a team with an average goalie has this bad of a goals for rating is if their defense is bad. They do not hit very many players around the ice, and each defenseman has very very bad possession numbers. So you can expect the ‘Hawks to get a lot of shots towards Varlomov and have lots of possession.
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Back to Varlomov, last time the ‘Hawks went up against him, they finally got pucks past him and ended his night early as he was pulled. That game on January 10th ended a long streak where Varlomov was playing like Ed Belfour in games against the ‘Hawks. Prior to the game on New Years Eve 2015, in which the ‘Hawks did beat him and scored four goals, he had let up three goals in four matchups with the ‘Hawks, dating back to the start of last season. Hopefully the Blackhawks finally figured out what was plaguing them earlier against Varlomov, and the “scoring more the three goals” thing becomes common.
As for the Blackhawks, Jonathon Toews will not be active. Since he did miss the all-star game Sunday night with an illness, the NHL dished out a one-game suspension to the captain, and to Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals for missing the game. Whether you like the rule or not, you have to respect the NHL for making this rule and standing by it. They do not want the NHL All-Star game to turn into the Pro Bowl in which players are willingly skipping the game for no repercussions. I do not really fault the NHL on this decision because of the reason that players would skip the game if they had the chance to take a vacation or just rest at home. So to all the fans freaking out about how Toews has to sit out a meaningful game because he missed a meaningless game, just calm down. In the long run, this game is just a regular season game and will not be the deciding factor as to whether the ‘Hawks will be winning the Cup. Plus if Toews actually was sick, he gets another day to feel better in the long run.
Aside from all the all-star game talks, the ‘Hawks went into the break having only scored three goals in their past four games. Before those four games, the offense was scoring in bunches and was even on that historic win streak. So, maybe the break was exactly what this offense needed to get back to their scoring ways.
In case you all forgot, the defense is still bad. Over the past four games, Brent Seabrook has had the best plus/minus rating from defensemen with a -2 rating. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Niklas Hjalmarsson both have -4 ratings as well. They all have sub 50% corsi ratings which shows that they are pretty much just average players in possession. And historically, teams that win the Cup have good defenses. I am just saying that it is a problem that needs to be addressed before the trade deadline, or else I do not really think this team will go far.
In net, the matchup is expected to be Semyon Varlomov vs. Corey Crawford. Varlomov (19-12-3) has a .918 save percentage with a 2.59 goals against average. On the other end, Crawford (28-12-2) continues to have a career year with a .931 save percentage and a 2.14 goals against average.
The puck drops at 8 o’clock central on Comcast Sportsnet locally, and on 720 WGN over the airwaves. The all-star game is over and it is time for real hockey! And hockey historically heats up after the all-star break, so let’s get it going! Go ‘Hawks!