Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, RDS, WGN-AM 720
Rocky Mountain High: Mile High Hockey
As the hockey world anxiously awaits tomorrow afternoon’s trade deadline even amidst the flurry of activity this afternoon (particularly in Anaheim), there still remain games to be played tonight. One of which will be the first time the Hawks will be indoors on West Madison in over a month to take on the ever irritating Avalanche.
For the visiting Avs, they’ve gone 2-1 since the post-Olympic return to action, with the lone loss impressively yielding 5 goals and an empty netter to the scoring impaired Kings. That was followed by victories against both the Coyotes and Lightning, not exactly titans of the hockey landscape these days, particularly with Steven Stamkos still missing. The big difference between the results of those three games was the presence of Semyon Varlamov in the cage, as he curiously sat out the Kings game as NHL play resumed. The Avalanche are still defensively an absolute mess, controlling only 47.5% of Corsi events, good for 25th in the league despite all of the offensive firepower they possess. It appears that as Russian Ike Turner goes, so go the Avs, and he has the .925 save percentage to back that up.
Fortunately for the Avs and their defensive efforts, half of their only real pairing in Erik Johnson returned to the lineup Sunday against Tampa Bay, and threw in a goal in a 6-3 affair for good measure. Johnson and Hejda are really the only trustworthy pair that Patrick Roy has at his disposal in the defensive zone, and he doesn’t mind tossing them out there at every juncture possible to stem whatever tide the Avs might be currently getting swallowed by.
Of course, much of this is counterbalanced by the Avalanche having arguably the fastest corps of forwards in the league. By now the names are well known and beyond annoying. Captain Gabe “Susan” Landeskog has already seemingly made a young career out of knifing the Hawks, and deranged clown and leading scorer Matt Duchene isn’t far behind in that department. Number 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t shown any signs of hitting a wall yet. Ryan O’Reilly has adapted well in his move to wing even if he’s really the only two way center the Avs had on their roster, and Paul Stastny has gone from trade bait to immovable as the Avs continue to hold their own in arguably the toughest division in hockey.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, once again they’ll begin a protracted period of time without Marian Hossa tonight, as he’s slated to miss 2-3 weeks with whatever happened to him in the first period on Saturday night in the blizzard. Based on the fact that they’re giving an actual timeframe on his return would suggest that he didn’t take another shot off the dome, but it’s more likely to be an aggrivation of the shoulder and back issues that have nagged him since his arrival in Chicago. Either way, expect him to be fighting something from here on out even upon his return.
In his absence Brandon Saad will jump up to the top unit with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, which in theory should not miss a beat with Saad’s puck hunting skills on the forecheck and ability to be a one-man breakout from his own zone. That will leave once again the What The Fuck line of Versteeg, Handzus, and Kane, where no one is really sure what exactly is supposed to be accomplished here, and Kane is still without a goal while on the ice with Handzus. Peter Regin will center Bickell and Shaw, which actually makes sense in putting Shaw in his natural wing position. Obviously the Human Shield line will remain in tact.
On the back end, things look to remain the same as the previous two games with Michal Rozsival locking down the #6 spot for the stretch drive. As has been the case earlier in the season, whenever Nick Leddy has gotten consecutive games with the same partner his confidence with the puck has grown during each successive outing. With this likely being his third straight with Rozy, look for him to be more confident to exploit the space that the Avs are likely to give him. This will all be done in front of Corey Crawford and his black pads from Saturday, as apparently his usual white ones were “misplaced” or “stolen” or “something” and they can’t be tracked down. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal, but goaltenders can be particular about equipment, and their bulky gear understandably takes longer to break in. It didn’t seem to bother him much on Saturday night, but those were extenuating circumstances to say the least. Against this forward group indoors might be another story, and at the very least it will look a little weird.
With the Avs now in the division, the story is now familiar. They’re going to trade chances and try to get up and down the ice with the Hawks, and then expect Varlamov to hold down the fort. If he’s on, which it will be clear in the early going if he is or not, it will take a bombardment of shots and a steady hand from Crawford at the other end to keep things at bay. Fortunately the Avs are far less proficient on the road at the dot than at home, which should bring their rate of possession down even further and give the Hawks a bevy of shooting opportunities. The hard part will be cashing them in, especially in the proverbial four-point game that this is. Let’s go Hawks.