When the season started, it wasn’t likely many fans would have predicted that tonight’s game would see the Colorado Avalanche fighting for their playoff lives while the Blackhawks are paying more attention to their lottery odds. Sitting in last place in the Central Division, this Chicago team is a lot different than the one we’ve become accustomed to seeing late in the season.
After a disappointing overtime loss in Chicago two-weeks go, the Avalanche look to improve their 1-0-1 record against the Blackhawks this season.
Two points tonight would help the Avs in their pursuit of the top Wildcard spot in the West, but it would also pull them to within two points of the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Division.
The Avalanche got a huge boost Sunday afternoon as Erik Johnson returned to the lineup after missing a month of action with a separated shoulder. Johnson logged just under 20 minutes of ice time, well below his season average. The return of their defensive anchor is a huge boost for the Avs and we should expect Johnson’s minutes to climb as he shakes off the rust.
All season we have talked about how this Avalanche team lacks depth, these days it doesn’t seem like that matters. The top line has been outstanding. Both Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have 18 points in their past 9 - the top line has been simply incredible.
It would be nice to see another line pick up some of the slack, but for right now, the combination of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog - along with some outstanding play by Tyson Barrie - has been enough to keep the team hot.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher - Sven Andrighetto
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Alexander Kerfoot - Vladislav Kamenev - Gabriel Bourque
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Erik Johnson
Duncan Siemens - Samuel Girard
In a season that has been pretty painful, rookie Alex DeBrincat has been one of the lone bright spots for Chicago. After setting goal scoring records in the OHL, the 39th overall pick in 2016 is showing an ability to transition his game to the NHL very quickly. DeBrincat is now up to 25 goals on the season and is showing why so many fans were puzzled that he dropped so far i his draft year.
The Blackhawks simply aren’t a good enough team - especially defensively - to make up for the loss of Corey Crawford. With Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and J.F. Berube all hovering around .900 sv%, a team with a leaky blueline like Chicago’s is going to be in a lot of trouble.
Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Matthew Highmore - Nick Schmaltz - Vince Hinostroza
Tomas Jurco - Artem Anismiov - Alex DeBrincat
Patrick Sharp - David Kampf - John Hayden
Duncan Keith - Jan Rutta
Erik Gustafsson - Brent Seabrook
Jordan Oesterle - Connor Murphy
With the way he has been playing lately - and Jonathan Bernier’s health concerns - we are certainly going to see Semyon Varlamov between the pipes tonight. In the month or March, Varly has been among the league’s best, sporting a .936 sv%.
We haven't heard from the Blackhawks yet, but it’s likely that Anton Forsberg will get the start for Chicago. Forsberg is 9-15-3 on the season with a .905 sv%.