The Chicago Blackhawks look to extend their win streak to four games when they face off against the Colorado Avalanche tonight at the United Center
After a slow start to the season, the Chicago Blackhawks have been picking up steam, winning four of their last five games. Although these wins have been against struggling teams, the ‘Hawks will take any type of momentum at this point.
The penalty kill has started to crawl back to an acceptable percentage, and the ‘Hawks’ big guns are starting to find the scoring sheet. Artem Anisimov will look to extend his point streak to nine games tonight, and Corey Crawford will try to continue his great start to the season.
But the Blackhawks need to be careful with playing a team like the Colorado Avalanche. Every year there seems to be one team that plays the Blackhawks particularly hard.
Teams such as the Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets and these very Avalanche have had the Blackhawks’ number in the past, winning most if not all of the regular-season games. If they’re not careful, this could be another one of those trap games.
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More on the Colorado Avalanche
The Avs seemed to have put it all together when they had the best record in the conference in 2014. With Stanley Cup champion goaltender Patrick Roy as manager, young forward Gabriel Landeskog as captain and Rookie of the Year sensation Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche seemed to be the team to beat in the Central Division.
But the Avs lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2014, to the Minnesota Wild in seven games, and have yet to recover.
Several problems have kept the Avs from taking the next step, but most revolve around identity. The Avalanche feature many high skilled forwards such as Matt Duchene, MacKinnon, Landeskog and Jarome Iginla but have lacked the defensive depth to keep the puck out of their own end.
Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson have offensive capabilities but tend to get outmuscled in the defensive zone. Last year, Barrie had a plus/minus of -16 and Johnson’s was -15, meaning they were both on the ice for significantly more goals allowed than goals scored.
Captaincy is another issue that has faulted the Avalanche. The Avs selected Landeskog second overall in the 2011 draft. Like Jonathan Toews, Landeskog was picked to be the captain of the team at a very young age.
Some teams have gone this route of picking a “franchise player” to be captain, but others tend to pick a player with veteran experience and leadership. Because of this, many have questioned Landeskog’s captaincy because of his lack of toughness and ability to lead by example.
Avs without Patrick Roy
Over the summer, it was reported that Roy had resigned as head coach of the Avalanche. This was a shock to many players and those around the organization. The explanation for Roy leaving was that he wanted more input when it came to player development and acquisition, which is a lot of what GM Joe Sakic does.
The Avalanche scrambled to find a head coach as the 2016-17 season neared. The Avs ended up hiring AHL coach Jared Bednar. Last year, Bednar lead the Lake Erie Monsters to a championship in the AHL. So far, the Avalanche have a 4-4-0 record and have posted nice wins against the Stars, Penguins, Lightening and Capitals.
Who to watch for the Avs
You don’t make Team Canada twice for no reason. Duchene also quietly scored a career-high 30 goals last year. It’s unfortunate he has been in Colorado with little to no exposure, otherwise Duchene would be considered a premier centerman in the Western Conference. With 5 goals already on the year, it will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks size up with Duchene and his breakout speed.
Selected 10th in the 2015 draft, Finnish RW Rantanen has the ability to become another powerful forward in the Avalanche’s arsenal. Called up just this past month, Rantanen is known for his playmaking ability. The ‘Hawks need to make sure to play a clean game and stay out of the penalty box or else Rantanen could make them pay.
The Blackhawks need to focus on getting to Varlamov early. The streaky goaltender can either take over a game himself or let several pucks leak into the net. Varlamov hasn’t had too much help on defense the last few years, so there’s only so much he can do to keep the Avs in the game. With a 2-4 win/loss record and a 3.18 GAA, the Blackhawks know shots on net will be an important factor in getting to Varlamov.
Behind the bench
Since Bednar has taken over, the leadership roles have changed. Fan favorite Cody McLeod, who used to wear the “A,” has been stripped of his assistant captaincy and has become a frequented healthy scratch. McLeod was known for his physical game and fighting. It seems like Bednar is moving towards the NHL trend of eliminating the enforcer position.
After an embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at home, it will take a lot of motivation for the Avalanche to go on the road to Chicago and get a win. The ‘Hawks are 5-1-1 at home this year and will continue their tear through the Western Conference bottom feeders. I’ll say Blackhawks 3, Avalanche 1.