Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, TVA, SN1, SNO, WGN-AM 720
The Banquet Beer: Mile High Hockey
Amid the blowing snow propelled by wind carrying sub-zero chills, the Hawks will host the Colorado Avalanche for the first time this season on the west side. And though the Avs have predictably and hilariously fallen squarely on their stupid asses this season as basically everyone thought they would, they have still always been problematic for the Hawks even when they have sucked to (mile) high heaven.
Much of the blame for Colorado’s last place standing in the ultra competitive Conference III can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the braintrust of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, who were hailed as geniuses last year, with Roy getting the hardware to prove it. The story is well worn, and Roy and Sakic naturally learned all the wrong lessons from it. Last year Colorado was buried in an avalanche (GET IT) of shot attempts against, but managed to win the division thanks to a career (and contract) year from criminal Semyon Varlamov and a group of highly skilled young forwards converting basically any open look they were given. This year, Varlamov has been ouchy and average after getting paid, the chances haven’t been potted when the forwards get them, and the team lost two of its better possession players in Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau. The former left in free agency, while the latter was traded incredibly stupidly for the corpse of Danny Briere straight up.
That isn’t to say that the forward group doesn’t have talent, it most certainly does. Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabe Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon can all fly and have scorer’s instincts, but they’re doing so in all directions, and have been wildly inconsistent this year. O’Reilly in particular has seen his shooting percentage tumble down the mountain from 13.9% to 7.9% resulting in only 7 goals to this point, which has in turn kicked up the trade rumor mill once again considering how much of an asshole hassle it was for the Avs to get him to agree to the contract he currently has. At present, 35 year old Alex Tanguay and 37 year old Jarome Iginla lead the Avs in scoring with 25 points a piece, which is obviously not what Roy and Sakic envisioned this past summer.
On the blue line, the Avs are a complete catastrophe. While Tyson Barrie provides a nice set of wheels to drive play and has 24 points just behind Tanguay and Iginla, they are a complete mess in their own end, with not a single Avs regular defenseman cracking even a 49% share in even strength shot attempts. Most galling is Brad Stuart, whom the Avs traded for this off season with a 2nd and a 6th round pick and was promptly given a two year extension with a no trade clause at age 34 for $3.6 million per. Stuart has returned the favor with a crisp 36.8% share, getting his skull absolutely caved in nightly. The Avs’ most “consistent” pair, Erik Johnson and Jan Hedja, still see all of the toughest assignments and zone starts, but are relentlessly hammered with attempts against. While the Avs certainly don’t have the blue line depth of some other divisional opponents, one need only look at the job Paul Maurice is doing with a decimated defense corps in Winnipeg to realize that this falls squarely only Patrick Roy’s inability to coach his team out of a paper bag. It’d be on Roy’s GM to fire him in short order to try to establish any kind of structure, but Roy is the general manager for the Avs as well. How convenient.
Tonight figures to be the Hawks first look at assface Semyon Varlamov tonight, after getting two valiant efforts out of the besieged backup Calvin Pickard at the Pop Can in the teams’ two previous meetings. After making a serious case for the Hart and Vezina last year with a .927 save percentage, Varlamov got paid last year, and predictably can’t find a reason to give a shit or stay in the lineup. With only 20 starts so far this year, he’s sporting a below-average .911 save percentage, buoyed by a .961 while shorthanded, leaving him with a wonderful .899 at evens. Of course, he’s still capable of making highlight reel saves and will probably find a way to stand on his head tonight simply because the very fact that he’s not in jail or deported is already infuriating enough.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Teuvo’s ascent up the depth chart continues, tonight starting out centering Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell on the “third” line, putting Marcus Kruger back in his rightful spot in the basement for all of the defensive zone draws with Ben Smith and Joakim Nordstrom. Teuvo certainly showed some flashes offensively and was engaged defensively while getting trotted out with myriad winger combinations on Sunday, ending up a +5/60% corsi share when all was said and done, with unsheltered zone starts to match, getting an even 50% of his draws in the o-zone versus in his own end. Putting him in this role probably suits him a little better as he ramps up to NHL speed, allowing Quenneville to go back to his trusted 3-1 configuration he’s used the last two seasons. The next step is finding consistent linemates for him to play with, and giving him the two most physical wingers (a relative term for this Hawks team) should give his svelt Finnish frame more space to work with and do what he does best.
Elsewhere the lineup remains the same, including Corey Crawford once again getting the start in net. Crawford has been a bit of an adventure since coming back from his foot injury, with things culminating in the diving overtime save after the behind-the-net boner against Dallas on Sunday. Any such wanderings figure to be punished tonight, because even though the Avs rarely have sustained pressure in the other team’s end, they have the top end skill to not miss gift opportunities.
Much like the Dallas game on Sunday, this figures to be an up and down affair, and the Avs have always shown a propensity to punish the Hawks when the forwards don’t maintain a controlled gap on breakouts and regroups, with the puck heading the other way quickly oft times on the tap of shit-grinning imp Matt Duchene. But a Hawks attack with structure is clearly a matchup problem for the Avalanche blue line, and there should be no shortage of looks at Varlamov. And even if he is conjuring his evil magic from last season, there should be enough opportunities to make the Avs pay. Oh, and getting an early lead for the first time in three weeks would be nice, too. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, please pick up a Committed Indian outside, as we’ll be risking life and limb to be there for you. If you’re not, you can get the PDF version right here: http://bitly.com/SQXOUK