Statement Time, Game 20 Preview: Blackhawks at Avalanche

Doug Pensinger

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks come to town as the Colorado Avalanche look to get back on track for a difficult stretch of Western Conference match-ups.

Alright, Nathan MacKinnon, time to show us what you've got. It's not that you haven't played well this season, you have. After all, 12 points and 55 shots in your first 19 NHL games is an impressive feat. It's just that, everyone can tell you're just a small step away from really breaking through and taking that 5.5 shooting percentage up a notch or two with some goals. Well, with Matt Duchene out of the lineup, you're now centering Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog on a line that is sure to get a lot of ice time and offensive zone face-offs. Your team is slumping and in need of a hero with a tough stretch of games ahead. Nathan MacKinnon, this is by far the biggest opportunity of your NHL career so far and, I for one, am I excited to see you take your game to another level and carry the Avalanche through Matt Duchene's injury.

Now, on to the other 39 guys lacing them up for Tuesday night's game... The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks are, predictably, the cream of the crop again this year. After a few early losses the Blackhawks are once again firing on all cylinders, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and propelling themselves back to the top of the NHL with a 14-3-4 record. Now hold on? How can that be? The Blackhawks are the NHL's best with just 14 wins and 11 ROW's? That's three fewer ROW's than the Avalanche? And there's the rub for Avs fans so far this year - the Avalanche actually still lead the NHL in regulation and overtime wins, with 14, but sit 8th in the Western Conference because of A) a lack of games played and B) their inability to bring losing efforts into overtime.

The Hawks have scored a league-best 78 goals so far this season which is really, really good. To put that in perspective, Kane, Toews, Sharp, and Hossa alone have outscored the entire 2013-2014 Philadelphia Flyers. Add the offensive depth of guys like Saad, Shaw, BIckell, and the recently re-acquired Versteeg (3 points in his first 2 games) and the Blackhawks offense is just plain scary. How do you stop a team with that kind of offensive firepower? Quite simply, you score more goals. The Hawks goaltending this year has taken a hit (though it has improved lately), leaving the team 21st in goals allowed. The Avs will have to take advantage of the sometimes shaky Corey Crawford and score early and often, because with Tyson Barrie, Nate Guenin, Nick Holden and Andre Benoit all in the lineup playing significant minutes on defense, it's doubtful you're going to hold the Hawks off the board for long.

Time to make a statement and get this early season back on track.

The Bad Guys

Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Kris Versteeg

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Roszival

Corey Crawford

Injuries: Michael Kostka, Michal Handzus, Nikolai Khabibulin

The Good Guys:

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Ryan O'Reilly

Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - P.A. Parenteau

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Max Talbot

Patrick Bordeleau - Marc Andre Cliche - Brad Malone

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Andre Benoit - Nate Guenin

Tyson Barrie - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Injuries: Matt Duchene (obliques), Alex Tanguay (knee), Ryan Wilson (knee), Cory Sarich (old and tired?)

Scratches: Matt Hunwick

Puck Drops at 7:00 pm in the Pepsi Center. We beat these guys when they were on a historic streak last season and, let's be frank, last year we were a worse team and they were a better one. This ain't over, so crack open a beer, pray for Matt Duchene's obliques, fuck the red wings, and let's get the win train rolling again.

Go Avs!

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