Game 37 Preview: Avalanche at Blackhawks

USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche come back from Christmas break with a challenging matchup against the division leading Blackhawks.

Welcome back everybody. Last we saw our Colorado Avalanche they were leaving the ice in San Jose at the end of their second consecutive California shootout loss. Strange as it may seem, that's also the last time the team will have seen eachother before taking the ice for tonight's division matchup. The Avalanche played on the last possible night before the league mandated break and start again on the first available night, so they have not practiced since their loss to the Sharks. And, as per Mike Chambers at the Denver Post, the Avalanche will not have a morning skate Friday which means the team has not skated together formally since December 23rd. Bizarre.

That said, if there is any team you can count on the Avalanche bringing their A-game against, it's the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are once again the cream of the crop in the West. They sit atop the Central Division with 58 points (just 1 point behind the NHL leading Anaheim Ducks) and they've absolutely lit the conference on fire with a league best 145 goals this season, 17 more then the second place St. Louis Blues.

If the Blackhawks have an achilles heel, it's their goaltending. Cory Crawford has not lived up to his long term, expensive goalie contract so far this year (Really? You don't say...) and the Hawks have allowed a very "human" 107 goals this season, good for 18th in the NHL. It's unlikely that you'll hold the Blackhawks off the scoreboard, so the key to beating them is to score first and score often (3 at least). When these teams last met, the Avalanche jumped out to a dominant 5-0 lead without the help of star center Matt Duchene, now that they have Duchene back they should try to stretch it to 6 or 7 unanswered goals just to be safe.

Projected Avalanche Lineup:

O'Reilly - Duchene - MacKinnon

Landeskog - Stastny - Parenteau

McGinn - Mitchell - Talbot

McLeod - Cliche - Bordeleau

Hejda - Johnson

Benoit - Sarich

Guenin - Barrie

Varlamov

Injured: Tanguay, Wilson

Projected Blackhawks LIneup:

Sharp - Toews - Hossa

Versteeg - Handzus - Kane

Bickell - Shaw - Saad

Bollig - Kruger - Smith

Keith - Seabrook

Hjalmarsson - Oduya

Leddy - Kostka

Raanta

Injured: Crawford, Khabibulin

Quick Hits:

- Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, and Erik Johnson are all riding impressive point streaks heading into tonight's matchup.

- At least one Avalanche defenseman has scored in each of the last 5 games.

- This marks the end of an incredibly difficult stretch of games for the Avalanche. 6 of the next 7 teams they play are currently out of playoff position, 4 of those teams are out of the playoffs in the East. After surviving a difficult stretch of Western Conference playoff contenders, it will be critical that the Avalanche take advantage of the weaker competition and earn some points in the standings.

Puck Drops at 6:00 PM MST, 8:00 PM EST on ALT TV

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