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Over My Head: Blackhawks at Avalanche Preview

It’s the season opener!

Chicago Blackhawks v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After five months of waiting, we’ve got Chicago Blackhawks hockey to watch!

The 2021-22 version of the team opens its season Wednesday night on the road against one of the preseason favorites in the Central Division: the Colorado Avalanche.

For multiple seasons now, Colorado has been assembling a wealth of speed and talent in the Rocky Mountains while working its way up the NHL standings. In the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, the Avs eked past the Vegas Golden Knights for the Western Division crown but lost to those same Golden Knights in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was the third straight season that ended with Colorado exiting in the second round, enough of a sample to raise questions about whether or not the team will ever find its way past that hurdle and into the realm of Cup contention where they’ve been seemingly destined for years.

Many of the familiar names are back with the Avs for this season, starting with Nathan MacKinnon — although MacKinnon will not be in the lineup Wednesday night after testing positive for COVID. The Avs are a fully vaccinated team and MacKinnon was reportedly asymptomatic, with GM Joe Sakic telling reporters that MacKinnon could return this weekend. Colorado coach Jared Bednar will also not be behind the bench at this game for the same reason. But the Avalanche still have plenty of firepower down the rest of the lineup. Mikko Rantanen is back after leading the team in goals (30) and points (66) last season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog (20 G, 32 A) is another weapon along with Andre Burakovsky (19 G, 25 A).

On the blue line, Cale Makar continues be one of the game’s biggest most exciting offensive blue-liners while Samuel Girard is another offensive threat from the back-end and the best face in the league to punch, according to Alex DeBrincat. Another key blue-liner to watch will be young Bowen Byram who was the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft — aka the player Chicago could’ve taken but opted for Kirby Dach instead. After Byram got his NHL feet wet with 19 games last season, he could receive a more extended NHL look in ‘21-22.

In net will be Darcy Kuemper, who’s been handed the position that has been one of Colorado’s weak points in recent postseasons. The 31-year-old Kuemper has had plenty of strong performances in his career has but there’s only been one season in Kuemper’s career where he’s played more than 31 games: that happened when he played 55 for the Coyotes in ‘18-19. If Kuemper can be the guy, Colorado could be a serious contender yet again. If not ... the Avs may be shopping for goalie help at the trade deadline.

As for the Blackhawks, it’s finally time for the first real look at a team that’s been significantly reshaped in the last six months. There are new bodies among the forwards, on the blue line and, reportedly, in the starting net for this season opener:

There were no surprise among the Blackhawks’ reported lineup scratches, either:

The talking’s done.

It’s time to see what this new-look Blackhawks lineup can do. It’s a tough opponent to start the season, even with their best player not in the lineup. But there’s no better way to quiet any lingering offseason doubts than by walking into the division favorite’s barn and leaving with two points in the back pocket.

And we’ll say it one more time, because it can’t be said enough: Jonathan Toews is back, which is pretty damn good.

Let’s Go Hawks!

Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche

45.85% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 58.98% (1st)

43.96% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 60.08% (1st)

2.84 (16th) — Goals per game — 3.52 (1st)

3.29 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.36 (3rd)

46.9% (27th) — Faceoffs — 49.9% (16th)

21.7% (11th) — Power play — 22.7% (8th)

76.8% (28th) — Penalty kill — 83.1% (8th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

Kubalik — Toews — Kurashev

Debrincat — Johnson — Kane

Borgstrom — Dach — Hagel

Khaira — Carpenter — Entwistle

de Haan — Jones

McCabe — Murphy

Stillman — Mitchell

Fleury

Lankinen

Avalanche

Landeskog — Kadri — Rantanen

Nichuskin — Compher — Burakovsky

Newhook — Jost — Ranta

Helm — O’Connor — MacDermid

Girard — Makar

Byram — E. Johnson

J. Johnson — Murray

Kuemper

Francouz

How to watch

When: 9 p.m. CT

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver

TV: TNT

Live stream: Watch TNT