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Preview: Avalanche in the Windy City

Colorado hits the road to take on the Bedard show in Chicago.

Chicago Blackhawks v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

After cruising to victory on the back of a three goal first period against San Jose, the Colorado Avalanche head to Chicago to take on another league bottom-feeder. Unlike the Sharks, however, Chicago has high end talent in Conor Bedard that could give the Avs depleted D-corps some headaches.

That wasn’t an issue in the teams’ first matchup at Ball Arena in October, a 4-0 drubbing by the Avalanche that left little question the two squads are in vastly different tiers. The Avs have had some ups and downs since then, while Chicago has done quite a bit of losing. Colorado will look to keep that trend going and start a new winning streak going into the new year.

Colorado Avalanche

The Sharks win was all Nathan MacKinnon, as the NHL’s first star of last week put up two goals and two assists to jump into second place in league scoring behind only Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov. MacKinnon has been carrying the team for weeks now, powering through injuries and slumps throughout the lineup to keep the team competitive essentially on his own.

That’s not sustainable, but linemate Mikko Rantanen and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev seem to be bouncing back into their high level form to help Nate out. The defense has been encouraging as well despite Cale Makar’s absence, as rookie Sam Malinski has gotten past simply getting his feet wet at the NHL level and is now being trusted to wade into the deep end with unsheltered minutes next to Bowen Byram and time on both special teams units.

Jonathan Drouin has also found his footing on the top powerplay unit and gained trust from the coaching staff at even strength, and though the second line grouping is still in flux - even more so following the Tomas Tatar trade to Seattle - Drouin at least seems like a lock for those minutes next to either Ross Colton or Ryan Johansen.

For as many balls remain in the air for this team, they’re still a dominant force when their stars are producing - and Chicago doesn’t defend or goaltend well enough to keep Nate and Mikko off the scoresheet.

Projected Lines

Projected Lines

Valeri Nichushkin (13) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Miles Wood (28) - Ross Colton (20) - Johnathan Drouin (27)
Ben Meyers (59) - Ryan Johansen (12) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Kurtis MacDermid (56) - Frederik Olofsson (22) - Joel Kiviranta (94)

Devon Toews (7) -Josh Manson (42)
Bowen Byram (4) - Sam Malinski (70)
Jack Johnson (3) - Caleb Jones (82)

Alexandar Georgiev (40)

NOTE: Both Cale Makar and Andrew Cogliano did NOT travel to Chicago and will not play tonight as both deal with injuries.

Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago has had a weird season so far, with Conor Bedard looking the part of a mature future superstar despite the antics of immature former superstar Corey Perry, who was released last month following an off-ice incident.

On the ice, Bedard also hasn’t had much help. Half the defense including veteran star Seth Jones is on IR along with expected Bedard sidekick Taylor Hall. Chicago has lost four straight and eight of the last ten, and in that stretch they only scored more than one goal in four games, and gave up at least three in every loss. They are bad.

But that’s ok, they don’t want to win while they’re rebuilding around Bedard and the rest of their youth movement. Bedard’s 26 points in 30 games are an inspiring start to a career with lofty expectations, but with so little help around him there’s not too much to fear in the United Center.

Projected Lines

Lukas Reichel (27) - Connor Bedard (98) - Philipp Kurashev (23)
Anthony Beauvillier (91) - Tyler Johnson (90) - Taylor Raddysh (11)
Nick Foligno (17) - Jason Dickinson (16) - Colin Blackwell (43)
Ryan Donato (8) - MacKenzie Entwistle (58) - Reese Johnson (52)

Isaak Phillips (41) - Connor Murphy (5)
Wyatt Kaiser (44) - Louis Crevier (46)
Filip Roos (48) - Nikita Zaitsev (22)

Petr Mrazek (34)

Goaltending

Colorado should give the net to Alexandar Georgiev as they’ve been giving him favorable matchups to rediscover the high level of play he started the season with. Chicago will likely start Mrazek, though rookie Arvid Soderblom has continued to get starts through his struggles.