Game Time: 8:00PM
TV/Radio: Comcast Sports Net / WGN 720
Snow Blower Operators: JibbleScribbits
Tonight, the Hawks roll into the Mile High City to take on (what is safe to say) this season's early surprise, the Colorado Avalanche. Most people picked the Avs to have a rough start to the season, but they have proved everybody wrong, going 5-1-0. Most recently, the team is coming off of a 3-2 overtime win Monday night in Toronto. It's the Avalanche's first home game in nearly two weeks, when they opened the year with a 3-0 loss to Scum.
Offensively, the Avs are led by 96-year-old Milan Hejduk who has 3 goals and 2 assists to open the year. David Jones leads the team in goals with four, including the game winner in OT on Monday night. Very quietly, Erik Johnson is leading the time in ice time with a shade under 24 minutes. He has also been very effective on the power play, netting 5 assists which is where all his points come from thus far.
What makes Colorado's hot start even more impressive is the fact that their star centers Paul Stastny (or the pride of Omaha, as only I refer to him as) and Matt Duchene have only 4 and 3 points respectively. Also, Shane O'Brien is averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time to start the year. Please take a second to let this sink in.
The power play is where Colorado does most of it's damage. The Avs are 7-22 on the year, which leads the league at 31.8%. Through 6 games, the Avalanche have had 22 power play attempts, which is the exact same ammount as the Hawks have taken this year as well. However, the Hawks PK is currently fourth in the league at 93.3%. Something has got to give.
The Avs took a lot of heat in the summer (zing!) for the seemingly mindless trade to acquire goalie Semyon Varlamov from Washington, sending a first and second round pick to Washington to acquire the Russian. Varlamov has responded well this year, going 3-1 with a 2.17 GAA and a save percentage at .938. I'm guessing that we'll see him tonight, as backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere started on Monday night in Toronto. I'm guessing Giguere will start Saturday at the UC but what do I know, I'm just a doctor.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are coming off their best third period since sometime in 2010 in a 5-2 win in Glendale. Taking a 3-2 lead into the third and facing two quick PK situations, Dave Bolland stole the puck, got too lazy to skate in to in on LaBarbera and blasted one past him to make it 4-2. Later we got to see Bryan Bickell's "where the hell did that come form?" wrist shot add the insurance as the Hawks won 5-2.
Hossa coming back was a nice boost, as he seems to actually be healthy and showed it with a nice goal. He continues to be on a wing with Patrick Kane at center. Speaking of which, Kane went 5-9 in face-offs on Monday as I guess that experiment continues. While I guess you can say "Hey, why not? It's working!" I still think most of us would like to see Kaner back at his normal spot on the wing.
I don't think that were going to see a lot of changes for the Hawks tonight. Crawford will start in net and while he played well on Monday, it would have been nice to see him cover up for the first goal (though traffic was heavy). For the second goal he was screened and could barely see, so that explains why Ray Whitney (Yes, that Ray Whitney, not his son) could score.
I would like to see Sami Lepisto in the lineup tonight but I'm not sure who you could put him in for. All of the Hawks defencemen have been playing pretty well all season. Yeah, Hammer was bad on Monday night and Keith blew a tire on one of the Coyotes goals, but Keith had 2 assists and was a +3 on the night. That Montador-O'Donnell pairing is turning into a nice third pairing, which is good to see. Right now, I wouldn't mess with it. However, if we do see John Scott in the lineup ahead of him I'm going to find a brick wall to drive my head into.
Anyway, big game tonight ahead in game 1 of the home-and-home with an Avalanche team who is not meant to be taken lightly. The Avs took 3-4 from the Hawks last year (Crawford was 2-1, according to ESPN, who also says Hossa started the other game so take that for what it's worth) and their hot start this year means they'll be playing with a sense of confidence. Set the tone early and don't take any penalties. Go Hawks.