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Feel the Pressure: Blackhawks vs Avalanche Preview

The Blackhawks look for their first win against the Avalanche this season on Friday night at the United Center.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After managing to escape Wednesday’s unusually high-scoring affair with an 8-5 victory over the Red Wings, the Blackhawks hope to secure a second consecutive win when they host the Avalanche on Friday evening at the United Center.

It looks to be another uphill battle for the Hawks, as Colorado has won their last 8 games — including a 2-0 win over the Blackhawks on Monday — and is riding the momentum of a mammoth 17-game home win streak. The Avalanche are a dangerous team who do all the small things right: they’re sixth in shot share (CF%) at 53.29 percent, fourth in high danger chance share (HDCF%) at 52.67 percent and 10th in expected goals share (xGF%) at 52.78 percent.

So what does that all mean?

Simply put, it means that the Avalanche control the puck often, take high quality shots and score a lot of goals against their opponents. The Hawks are no stranger to Colorado’s capabilities, being 0-2-1 against the Avs this season while being outscored a combined 10-5.

The Avalanche head into Friday night’s competition fairly healthy, although one recent injury is a big one: star forward Nathan MacKinnon reportedly has a broken nose after a hit from Boston’s Taylor Hall on Wednesday night ended up having MacKinnon’s own stick hit him in the face.

Defenseman Bowem Byram is another marquee name missing from the Colorado lineup, with the 2019 No. 4 overall pick on a leave of absence for family-related reasons.

To evade a fourth straight loss against the Avalanche this season, the Blackhawks will have to find ways to neutralize the Avs high scoring threats in the offensive zone, primarily star forward Mikko Rantanen, who leads Colorado with 22 goals on the season. Joining him in this tear from the red are Nazem Kadri, who owns a team-high 55 points (16 G, 39 A), Gabriel Landeskog — known for doing Landeskog thingsand Cale Makar, who has given the Hawks fits in every matchup they’ve had.

On the other side of the faceoff circle, It was reported Friday morning that Jonathan Toews is in concussion protocol. Toews took a hit into the boards from Joe Veleno in Wednesday’s game against the Red Wings, which may be the reason for his injury.

Being without the captain will make Friday’s game even more of a challenge for the Blackhawks. Jujhar Khaira is back skating with the team at practice but is not returning to the lineup just yet. Brett Connolly will fill that role heading into Friday night’s affair Otherwise, the Blackhawks injury front remains the same.

Marc-Andre Fleury can hold his own in net against just about any team, provided that the defense in front of him does an adequate enough job. Despite this, the Blackhawks still have to find ways to put pucks past Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz. In their last meeting earlier in the week, Francouz shutout the Hawks, saving 24-of-24. While Fleury did manage to save 27-of-29 in that matchup, two Colorado goals — including a Kadri powerplay goal — were more than enough for an Avalanche victory.

With Toews out, Dylan Strome’s playing time could go up. Strome’s hat trick (while playing 16 minutes) proved to be the difference maker in the Hawks last victory. Maybe No. 17 in red can give the Blackhawks some sort of spark. If the line of Strome, Brandon Hagel and Patrick Kane can get things going for the Hawks offensively and the defense can hold down the fort, they will have a chance to grab two points against Colorado. Yet, if the story of poor special teams and an anemic offense remains the same, the Hawks will find themselves in a world of trouble once more.

The game plan is very straight forward. But easier said than done, right?

Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche

46.61% (27th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 53.16% (6th)

45.47% (28th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.67% (10th)

2.34 (29th) — Goals per game — 4.15 (1st)

3.27 (22nd) — Goals against per game — 3.03 (19th)

49.4% (20th) — Faceoffs — 47.3% (28th)

18.9% (18th) — Power play — 24.5% (10th)

76.0% (25th) — Penalty kill — 74.8% (27th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

Hagel — Strome — Kane

DeBrincat — Borgstrom — Lafferty

Kubalik — Dach — Kurashev

Connolly — Carpenter — Entwistle

McCabe — S. Jones

de Haan — Murphy

C. Jones — Gustafsson

Fleury

Söderbloom

Avalanche

Landeskog — MacKinnon — Rantanen

Nichushkin — Kadri — Burakovsky

Compher — Newhook — O’Connor

Jost — Maltsev — Aube-Kubel

Toews — Makar

Johnson — Girard

MacDermid — Johnson

Francouz

Kuemper

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago