After an important win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks are right back at it tonight against the league’s worst team
If you’re in a playoff race, all of the March and April games for an NHL team can be critical. That turned out to be the case for the Chicago Blackhawks last night, as they captured a 2-1 overtime victory against the host Toronto Maple Leafs.
What made it so important was the Minnesota Wild posting their fourth consecutive loss last night as well. The combination put Chicago up five points in the Central Division and Western Conference races, though Minnesota still has a game in hand.
Both clubs are back in action right away tonight. Minnesota heads to Winnipeg, while Chicago heads home to take on the lowly Colorado Avalanche.
Now, this is the definition of a trap game. The Avs are having what may be a historically bad season. They’ve posted just 43 points in 70 games this season. The fewest points scored in an 82-game regular season the last five years is 52 by Buffalo in 2013-14. I’m honestly not sure if Colorado can reach that mark by season’s end this year.
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Again, however, I’d still consider this a trap game. The Blackhawks are traveling from Toronto after a night game, while the Avs have traveled from Detroit after a late-morning tilt yesterday. And remember the last time these teams met this season? Chicago needed six goals to put away Colorado in mid-January.
Previewing the teams
We won’t know until later today what exactly the lineup holds for the Blackhawks. One would think the only major change at forward could be the return of Marian Hossa, who sat last night’s game as a precaution.
John Hayden seems likely to remain on the top line regardless, since he scored his first NHL goal against Toronto. Hossa could slot in on the third line, pushing Tomas Jurco either out of the lineup or down to the fourth line in place of Jordin Tootoo.
On defense, the Blackhawks could deploy Michal Kempny with the benefit of last change (at least it’d make Joel Quenneville more comfortable). But the pairings could also remain the same: Duncan Keith–Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook–Johnny Oduya, Brian Campbell–Trevor van Riemsdyk. The Blackhawks defense actually did a nice job of suppressing shots last night after three straight games of being dominated in that department.
In net, I’d imagine Scott Darling draws back in on the weak, home end of a back-to-back.
Here’s the lineup Colorado rolled yesterday:
The Avs have ample speed and talent among their top six, but that’s about the best compliment you can give right now. MacKinnon’s 45 points lead the team, and no one else has more than 37. Only four guys have 30 or more, and one is Barrie on the blue line.
Speaking of the blue line, it doesn’t posses the puck a whole lot. Among the defensive regulars, only Johnson has a Corsi-for of 50 percent or better. Johnson is probably better served as a second-pairing guy with his injury history, Barrie is an offensive dynamo who gets lost in the defensive end, and Beauchemin is just being wasted here.
It also doesn’t help the goaltenders can’t stop much of what gets to them. Semyon Varlamov is out for the season due to injury, leaving Pickard (.909/2.87) and Smith (.898/3.12) to try and clean up. Pickard started yesterday, so the red-hot Blackhawks could get a rookie in Smith facing them.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 6 p.m.
TV: NHL Network, WGN
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Radio stream: WGN Radio App
Prediction: The Avs tend to play the Blackhawks a little harder than some other teams, but that might not mean much at this point. If the Blackhawks get the puck on net early and often against either Pickard or Smith, things are probably going to turn out well.