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Hot Hawks Head to Denver

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  By Tony DeFrancesco

( FLICKR / The Mel )
The last time the Blackhawks made the trip to the mile high city, the Colorado Avalanche handed them their first regulation loss of the season in a 6-2 thrashing. I know a lot of fans were disappointed in the loss, but in hindsight the Blackhawks were caught in a perfect storm.

The importance of this game means very little in the grand scheme of things. Colorado will not be making the playoffs this year without an improbable amount of help, so there is no need for the Blackhawks to feel the pressure of redeeming themselves before a potential post-season matchup. Ultimately, it will just provide more momentum for the Blackhawks moving forward if they can win this game, at the very least, to prove to themselves that the last game against this bottom feeder was a complete fluke.

Aside from history, I don't see a lot of hurdles that the Blackhawks must jump in order to pull out the win here in Denver. Since defeating the Chicago, the Avalanche have gone 1-3-0 and their opponents have outscored them 17 to 10. That means that Colorado has given an average of 4.25 goals against per game. Meanwhile the Blackhawks are coming off a hot 8-1 win over Dallas, so in a sense, the perfect storm is reversed.

The tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have been as cold as they can be since defeating Chicago. Varlamov has put together a 0-3-0 record in his last three games with a 3.82 goals against average, and 0.882 save percentage. Giguere has been even worse. He started one game over the last three games and was pulled after allowing four goals in the first period with a 0.714 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks will not get Giggy in net tonight, as Semyon Varlamov is slated to start. In five career games against Chicago, Varlamov has put together stellar numbers with a 0.931 save percentage and 2.18 goals against average to go along with his 3-2-0 record.

Ray Emery will start for the Blackhawks. In his career against the Avalanche, Emery has put together a 2-1-0 record along with a 0.868 save percentage and 3.93 goals against average. He appeared in both games against the Avalanche this season and owns a 1-0-0 record along with a 0.912 save percentage and 2.25 goals against average.

There has been some changes in Colorado since they defeated the Blackhawks. Milan Hejduk has returned to their line-up since he was activated off injured reserve, but he was scratched in their 6-4 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Tyson Barrie, the teams leader in ice time per game and led the team defense in points at the time, was sent back to the American Hockey League due to front office incompetence (seriously, it's because they had a full roster when they signed Ryan O'Reilly, plus activating Hejduk, and Barrie didn't have to clear waivers).

Of course, the Blackhawks have not released any media notes for this game so I had to fish around for the information myself:

SEASON SERIES (1-1-0) — This is the final game of the season series between these two teams. The first two games were back-to-back home and away scenarios where the Blackhawks took a 3-2 win in the first game at the United Center and the Avalanche won 6-2 at the Pepsi Center in the second game. The Avalanche snapped the Blackhawks 24 game point streak with their win. Jonathan Toews leads the Blackhawks with two goals in the season series, while Matt Duchene leads the Avalanche with two goals and three assists against Chicago this season. Ray Emery started the first game, while Corey Crawford started the second game but did not finish.

IF HISTORY REPEATS — Marian Hossa leads all active Blackhawks with 11 goals and 18 points in 20 career games against the Avalanche. Patrick Kane leads the offense with 10 assists in 20 career games. Duncan Keith leads the defense with 15 points in 40 games. Corey Crawford has the best stat line among Blackhawk goaltenders with a 3.14 goals against average and 0.877 save percentage, but Ray Emery owns the best record by going 2-1-0 in his career against the Avalanche. Over the course of history, the Avalanche own a 37-21-3-4 record against the Blackhawks.

THE BOTTOM LINE — The area that needs the biggest improvement against the Avalanche is goaltending. Again, luckily this isn't a team that will will need to face in order to advance in the playoffs so if anything it's a blessing that the Blackhawks goaltenders are struggling against them rather than a top tier team. Chicago's stars also seem to have a problem being the stars against the Avalanche as well. Patrick Kane, with four goals in 20 career games, and Dave Bolland, with one goal in 16 career games, are going to need to bring more to the table against Colorado if the Blackhawks offense is going to give the team a chance to win, unless the Chicago goaltenders can find a way to shut the door. For the most part, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa have held up their end of the bargain with 19 combined goals, respectively. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks leading point producer against Colorado, Patrick Sharp, is still suffering from an injury sustained against Colorado on 3/6/2013. History may not be in the Blackhawks favor against this Denver team, and no one should ever underestimate an NHL team; but despite all that, the cards say that Chicago should pull out a win today.

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MILESTONE WATCH — Johnny Oduya is one assist away from 100 (99 career assists) ... Dave Bolland is two assists away from 100 (98 career assists) ... Marian Hossa is three assists away from 500 (497 career assists) ...

INJURY REPORT — Patrick Sharp is still out with an upper-body injury (separated shoulder) but he is skating on his own.

ACROSS THE POND — New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur is planning on returning from injury on Thursday ... The Vancouver Canucks have started Roberto Luongo in his fourth consecutive game (Cory who?) ... Boston Bruins forward David Krejci is listed as 'day-to-day' with a leg injury ... Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was injured in a game against the Boston Bruins after Brad Marchand slashed him ...

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