PUCK DROP: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
The Hawks will close out 2015 at altitude, taking on an Avalanche team that’s probably been their biggest headache over the past few years. Strangely, the Hawks have done much better in Denver than they have at home against the Avs. They won two of three there last year, and the one they lost was the last game of the year where half the team didn’t play and the Hawks certainly didn’t think it mattered in any way. Contrast that to losing both home games against the Avs last year, the first one this year, and two of three the year before that.
The Avs haven’t really cooled off since getting their customary, infuriating shutout in the United Center earlier this month. They’ve gone 3-1-1 since, dropping home games to the Coyotes and Leafs, which is a real trick. But as always with the Avs, it’s something of an illusion, and at least more people are realizing that these days.
Even during this stretch in December when the Avs have gone 9-2-2, they’re the second worst possession team in the league in the month. Only the Canucks have been worse. Hey, that’s fun to write. I’m going to do it again. ONLY THE CANUCKS HAVE BEEN WORSE. Ah, good for the soul, that.
The Avs get away with it because Special Demon Semyon Varlamov is once again playing at an unconscious level. He’s at .947 and 1.68 in December, with a tidy .960 SV% at even-strength. So even though the Avs are getting their brains beaten in on a regular basis all over the ice, they have a great equalizer in net.
Nate MacKinnon had gone cold there for a while, not having scored in 14 games. So of course he had a hat trick last out against the Sharks, right in time to tear apart the Hawks once again. The big watch is that Jarome Iginla sits at 599 goals, and could pierce the 600 threshold tonight. He’s on a four-game point streak as well. It’s him and Carl Soderberg that have been doing the scoring for the last little bit for the Avs.
At this point it’s well trodden territory as to why the Avs give the Hawks so much trouble. Varlamov is either in their heads or there’s simply some weird, cosmic shit that turns him into Godzilla whenever he plays the Hawks. They also are one of the few teams that carry a number of players who can skate or even out-skate the Hawks, especially these days with the Hawks carrying something of a more limited roster. So when the Hawks play at pace but cock up the puck they can’t actually catch the Avs on the backcheck, or at least MacKinnon and Duchene, the latter has had plentiful opportunity to flash that Cheshire, annoying-rich-kid grin of his against the Hawks.
For the Hawks the lineup should stay the same after putting up a touchdown against the Avs, even if three of the goals were on the PP and one was an empty-netter. That means Shaw on the top line, which at least helps with some forechecking and down-low work to aid Toews while they wait for Hossa. Teuvo and Danault combine on the third line which is certainly worth more of a look. I assume Erik Gustafsson will remain on the third pairing, and you’d think this is the type of game where he’ll get to show off his transition skills as the Avs aren’t exactly the most structured bunch around.
While it’s hardly a big game on the schedule, only the Avs or Jets are going to make the Hawks sweat about making the playoffs. And considering the huge faults of both that’s a long shot. Still, a win tonight will put the Avs 10 points in arrears, and they’re not making that up. Six points? Still heavily unlikely but you could see where if things went balls-up through injury or something it could happen.
There’s not some secret gameplan the Hawks have to employ tonight. Don’t turn the puck over, don’t give MacKinnon and Duchene more looks than you have to. Do that, the Avs really don’t have the weapons to hurt you. But it still might not matter if Varlamov decides he’s not going to let in anything. They’ll talk about tough areas and greasy goals after the game no matter how it goes, but it’s not like the Avs don’t let teams get a lot of great looks ever game. They give up the fourth most high-danger chances per 60 minutes, and same for scoring chances overall. Really, it’s not up to the Hawks.
Obviously, a wrap tonight is not going to happen given the night and everyone’s plans. Feather might attempt a wrap tomorrow, assuming his flight from the Playboy Mansion lands in time. But there might not be one at all. Apologies.