Hockey

Game #35 – Avalanche vs. Hawks Preview: Only One Way To Go

vs.

RECORDS: Avs 21-9-3   Hawks 13-15-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY: Mile High Hockey

You can’t get a more clear illustration of one team with everything in front of them, and one that can’t stop staring down than on Wednesday Night Hockey tonight. Heightened by the fact that the Avs have already Macho Man Elbowed the Hawks twice this year, and it’s hard to find a bigger chasm you can watch. But hey, they make you play all 82.

The big story probably lies with the Hawks tonight, as once again Brent Seabrook is a healthy scratch. And according to Jeremy
Colliton, this isn’t about making some statement. I don’t know if this signals some massive youth movement for the Hawks, but either way this is correct. With Duncan Keith returning tonight and Adam Boqvist needing minutes with a real d-man, there’s little option really. Sure, bending over for Dennis Gilbert is not a good look for anyone, but this was going to happen when the Hawks have other actual promising kids around and it’s probably not the worst message to send to everyone that they will get looks if they’ve earned it over sputtering vets. Hell, if de Haan were every going to be healthy again, Seabrook might be looking at being #8 on the depth chart.

The other story is Keith returns as well and will pair with Murphy, which for a handful of games early in the season actually looked like a thing. Whether this is the team you’d want to return against when your groin is iffy is another question. But there probably isn’t much choice.

If there was hope the Avs might take this one lightly, those probably disappeared with them getting soundly beaten by the Blues 5-2 on Monday. And the last thing the Hawks need is an ornery Avs team that they can’t handle. They probably can’t handle them heavily medicated.

The Avs are beat up on the blue line. Cale Makar and Erik Johnson have missed the past few games and won’t play tonight. That leaves a first pairing of Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov, which you would think even the Hawks could get at. But you’d think a lot of things.

The problem is that unlike their double-header after Thanksgiving, the Avs are just about fully operational at forward now. Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog is back, so’s Matt Calvert, and the Hawks couldn’t handle the Avs when they were rounding their fourth line out with AHL flotsam. So that’s fun.

Nathan MacKinnon is definitely off on one, so good luck to Keith’s groin. He’s got 34 points in his last 21 games, has vaulted into the top-five in scoring, and is going to make a case for yet a Hart Trophy before too long. One that has somehow eluded him to this point in his career. He’s got running buddy Mikko Rantanen back, and Burakovsky has loved being on the other side.

The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Avs transition speed, and also couldn’t find the Avs’ centers when they were set up in the Hawks’ zone. Both MacKinnon and Kadri benefitted from waiting out near the blue line while the puck was down low behind the Hawks’ net last time, and then crashing down when possession was won and the Hawks looking for them and not finding them. Watch for this tonight and whether one of the Hawks wingers abandons a point to cover this or the center leaves the front of the net to get out high against them. Either is probably a better choice than simply letting MacKinnon run around free all he likes.

The Hawks are now the wooden spooners of the West. That should embarrass everyone, but we’ll see if they have a response. It could be an ugly week, as they have the Avs twice with the Jets sandwiched in between. Perhaps fear of embarrassment is what they need.

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