Gameday Preview: Avalanche at Blackhawks

Avs will be looking for revenge as they head back to the UC Tuesday night

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The last time the Chicago Blackhawks welcomed the Colorado Avalanche to the United Center, the visitors left with a serious welt on their bottom as the Hawks whipped them by a score of 7-2.

Of course, that was just payback for an earlier game in Denver, where the Avalanche beat Chicago by a 5-1 margin at Pepsi Center, but the game could have easily been a lot worse. Patrick Sharp picked up a hat trick in that contest, and if the Hawks hadn’t called off the dogs after a four goal second period, the score easily could have hit double digits.

Naturally then, the Avalanche will be looking for a measure of revenge on their own as they make their return to Chicago. Despite those potential ill feelings though, Avalanche forward Matt Duchene holds the Hawks in high esteem. Here’s what he had to say about Colorado’s morning skate:

If the Avalanche are looking to model themselves after the Blackhawks, then they are doing a pretty good job. They have stocked up on young offensive talent, with Duchene and first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon leading the way. They also have two goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov and Jean Sebastien Giguere that can come in at a moment’s notice and slam the door closed on a team.

Granted, they still have to work on their team defense, but in year one under head coach Patrick Roy, it seems as though Colorado is on the right track.

Key to the Game: Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Shot

With arguably the most talented offensive team in the NHL, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Blackhawks are a team that passes the puck a lot. Part of their reason for doing so is to try to find open shooting lanes and to cause defensive breakdowns for their opponent, and despite the hard-headed fans who insist on yelling “SHOOT” every time Chicago has the puck, the Hawks largely execute their offensive strategy well.

There have been some exceptions to that rule, especially lately. In the Hawks’ past few games, those open shooting lanes are being turned down by Blackhawks shooters, and as a result the offensive effort of the team has been inconsistent. By way of example, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad both made great zone entries against the New York Rangers last week, but instead of continuing to drive to the net, they instead passed the puck back to the point, where there was no support, thus killing the possession.

Marcus Kruger also was guilty of this kind of extra-fanciness on Sunday night, when he got the puck near the boards along the goal line. He had a wide open lane to get to the net, but instead of driving in and trying to get the puck on Devan Dubnyk, he tried to pass to the middle of the ice, and the puck was easily cleared away by the Oilers.

The Blackhawks shouldn’t stray too far from their extra-pass strategy, but when those kinds of offensive situations come up where there is an open lane to a good scoring chance, they have to be aggressive enough to follow it, especially against a quality offensive opponent like the Avalanche.

Avs Player to Watch: Gabriel Landeskog

We mentioned Duchene and MacKinnon earlier in this preview, but with Paul Stastny out of the Avalanche lineup on Tuesday night, another guy the Hawks have got to pay attention to is Landeskog, the Avalanche captain.

In his last five games, Landeskog has a goal and five assists, including three helpers in an overtime win over the Ottawa Senators last week. Against the Blackhawks in that December blowout, Landeskog had a goal and an assist, and has scored in both meetings between these teams this season.

His ice vision is stunning for someone as young as he is, and even though he’s the youngest captain in the NHL, his teammates clearly have his back, so the Hawks will have to definitely try to keep him in check Tuesday.

Blackhawk to Watch: Andrew Shaw

In his first game in the second line center role, Shaw did everything that Joel Quenneville and company could have asked him to do. He skated hard, played good defense, drove to the net, and picked up a goal off the rush as the Hawks knocked off the Oilers.

The real test is going to come moving forward for Shaw, however. Guys from Daniel Carcillo to Michael Frolik looked good for a game or two after they were promoted, but they quickly reverted back to their old ways, and ended up getting shuffled back down to the bottom six.

If Shaw is going to remain in the top six (and in Quenneville’s good graces), then he is going to have to continue to do all of those little things that he did to perfection on Sunday, or else Kruger or Michal Handzus could get bumped back up the lineup.

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