Game Time: 8:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Innocent Until Proven Guilty: Mile High Hockey
After their Stanley Cup win in Game 25 of last year, it was hard to imagine the Colorado Avalanche as getting any more irritating. Fortunately, they’ve gone and exceeded basically everyone’s expectations, as has been wonderfully articulated by the Fifth Feather on this site. But far be it from me to miss an opportunity to pile on.
During the off season most of the hockey world, here included, laughed maniacally as the Colorado Avalanche made a blatant nostalgia grab in hiring Joe Sakic to run their hockey operations, who in turn hired complete fuckweasel Patrick Roy to be his head coach. It became even more riotous when the defensively bereft Avalanche passed on Seth Jones with the number 1 overall draft pick to draft yet another talented forward in Nathan McKinnon for Roy to completely mismanage. That laughter turned into frustration and befuddlement as the Avs rocketed to the top of the reconfigured Central Division and Western Conference with their best start in franchise history, thanks largely in part to phenomenal goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere helping buoy a team that has been underwater by all pertinent possession metrics.
But that frustration turned into venom-inducing hatred after Semyon Varlamov was charged with some undeniably evil domestic abuse charges, and subsequently released on a mere $5000 bond, and allowed to play the next day. Ever the man with a social conscience, Coach Roy famously quipped “Why wait?” regarding trotting Varlamov back onto the ice, noting that the organization and the team needed to rally around their goalie during their difficult time. At that point, all bets are off, and your entire organization is complicit in absolute shit bag behavior.
(For the record, as has been stated numerous times, Bobby Hull is wife beating, Nazi sympathizing, alcoholic piece of infectious human waste, and the Blackhawk organ-I-zation continues to embarrass itself every day it allows him both to walk around in any official team capacity and to be deified by fans. So save your keystrokes.)
The unfortunate things for the Avalanche, and the fortunate thing for the rest of the division, is that there is are some scary talented young forwards on the roster who will inevitably be mismanaged by Roy. First and foremost on the list is Cheshire-Cat-From-Hell Matt Duchene, who is in the middle of a breakout season but will be sidelined tonight due to an oblique injury suffered in the Avs loss to Washington. Duchene is interjecting himself into both the discussion for both Hart candidacy, as well as the argument for most electrifying player in the world to watch. And even with him being absent tonight, the Avalanche still boast Ryan O’Reilly (who has moved to wing for reasons only known to Roy) and Paul Stastny down the middle with the quick finishing former Hawks farm hand P.A. Parenteau and natural born Hawk killer Gabe Landeskog on the wings. And oh yeah, #1 overall pick McKinnon as well. So there’s no lack of speed or finish here even without Duchene.
Along the blue line is where things get dicey for the Avs. Old, slow thumper Corey Sarich is out tonight, and the top pairing of Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson are submerged in chances against at even strength. The rest of the corps is populated with yippy youngbloods who are swift skaters but still adventurous in their own end like Tyson Barrie, Matt Hunwick, and Andre Benoit.
Scumbag Varlamov will be in net tonight, because he has to be and has been that good. Dickhead sees on average 29.5 shots per game in his 14 starts, but that’s less work than Giguere has in general had to face, as the Avs give up 31.7 per 60. That number figures to go down at home with how good the Avs are at the dot, but even still opponents on average outshoot the Avs’ 30.4 per game, and the above links detail just how much they out chance them.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Marian Hossa remains out for tonight, but the Hawks are hopeful he’ll return Thursday in The Peg. So with that the lines remain the same as on Sunday, meaning Brookbank will once again draw in at forward. Brookbank’s lack of speed will be a little bit trickier bag to manage than it was against the Sharks, with both the Avs having a fair bit more speed to their game, as well as having last change. Though it’d shock me if Roy’s line management were any more detailed than “You, get out there”.
Everything on the back end of things will remain the same as well, both regarding the defensive pairings, and in Corey Crawford starting once again with Antti Raanta desperately crossing his fingers to not get tapped on the shoulder tonight.
Help on draws from the wingers will be key tonight for the Hawks, who are slightly improved as a team on faceoffs, but will be overmatched tonight. In the event that the Avs retain the puck, a hard forecheck to force young defensemen into questionable passes followed by recovery and back pressure will be necessary to keep the speedy Avs attack at bay. To that same end, the Avs’ rush should play right to the strength of the Hawk defensemen, which is standing teams up at the the blue line rather than digging for pucks in corners against bowling ball forecheckers.
In case it wasn’t already evident, there could be no better outcome tonight than if this were a total embarrassment of the Avalanche on home ice with Varlamov clowned and yanked in the first period as a giant middle finger at the organization. But a smart, fast, and controlled two points will certainly suffice to start out the annual Circus Trip. Let’s go Hawks.