Hockey

Game #25 and #26 – Avalanche vs. Hawks Preview: Here Comes The Rabbit

vs.

RECORDS: Avalanche 13-8-2*   Hawks 10-9-5

PUCK DROP(S): 3pm Friday, 8pm Saturday

TV: NBCSN Chicago for both

BUCKWHEATS: Mile High Hockey

*Wednesday’s game not included

The Hawks will try and help you shake off the tryptophan and dealing-with-family hangover this weekend with an old school home-and-home against the Avalanche. And with it, they may get a look at what might be the class of the division now, and certainly will be before too long. Seeing as how St. Louis is in Monday, the Hawks will definitely have some idea of just how far behind they are.

No team had more preseason buzz than the Avs. Nathan MacKinnon ascended to demigod status in last year’s playoffs, they finally got Mikko Rantanen signed, made a nifty trade with Toronto that brought them back a multi-faceted (though at times dunderheaded) Nazem Kadri, and most of all it is a full season of Cale Makar. And when the Avs have been fully healthy, it’s looked very boomstick. They started the season 8-1-1, scoring 40 goals in those 10 games.

But it’s been only 5-7-1 since, and a lot of that is injuries. Rantanen and Gabriel SapsuckerFrog have been out for a while now, though Dear Rat Boy could return this weekend. Depth pieces like Matt Calvert and Nikita Zadorov and Colin Wilson and others have missed time as well, thinning out what was a deeper team than before but not exactly deep either. Those are slowly returning, but they’ll have some ground to make up.

But the Avs can’t curse the gods for their fortunes totally, either. Their PDO is right behind the Hawks’, as they’ve gotten excellent work from their goalies at even-strength, with a .935 SV% overall, third in the league. But they’ve had real problems on the kill, where they have the fourth-worst save-percentage. And looking at their metrics while shorthanded, they’re only middle of the pack in the chances they give up while killing penalties, so their goalies just have to be better.

Clearly, the story with the Avs starts with Mac K and Makar. When they’re on the ice, and they’re on the ice together a lot, the Avs are nearly unplayable. It’s two of the two most dynamic forces in the league together, and yes Makar is already rocketing up to that status in just his rookie season. He’s going to walk with the Calder Trophy at this rate, averaging a point per game from the blue line and leading the rookie scoring race by seven points barely a quarter of the season in.

Still, the rest of the roster needs some tuning, and again when they get their full lineup this will help. Nazem Kadri has not been the possession and defensive monster he was in Toronto, mostly getting domed in possession. He’ll get help when Donskoi is allowed to slot down upon Rantanen’s return. They’re still waiting for a pop from Tyson Jost, and JT Compher hasn’t gotten to play the Hawks yet and pile up 17 goals. Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog’s return will definitely help with the depth scoring.

Another problem for the Avs is they’re just not a great possession team overall. While trading Barrie made sense given that he’s a year from free agency, it’s left Makar as basically the only true puck-mover from the back. It’s not Erik Johnson‘s game, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be Samuel Girard‘s (THE BIG DOG IS ALWAYS RIGHT) game either, thought there’s room for growth there. They could probably use another one back there to really challenge, as right now Girard and Johnson are deployed merely as fire fighters.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t a huge headache for the Hawks, who only managed one regulation win over the Avs last year and lost the two big games against them when the playoffs were actually something worth discussing. Still, this was one of the opponents the Hawks did play even in terms of shots and chances, just didn’t get the goaltending the Avs did from Grubauer or Varlamov. That shouldn’t be a problem this time around.

It’s not like you need a big dossier on how to get past the Avs. Contain the explosive device that is MacKinnon into no more than a controlled explosion, and you’re half the way there. On Friday, Colliton will be tempted to use Toews to do that, but it should be Kampf. If you can do that it’s not a great defensive team, you just have to get past their goalies, which was a challenge for the Hawks last year. But the power play scratched on Tuesday against the Stars, and the Avs have been pretty welcoming in that spot this year too. That would help.

Huge stretch here for the Hawks, as the next four are against some of the best the league has to offer. They can’t afford too many dry stretches from here on out, even if we’re not to December yet. And get used to the Avs, as the Hawks will be seeing them four times in the next month.

So get your post-Thanksgiving shit in early, this one has a chance to be fun.

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