Copper and Stars: Blackhawks at Avalanche Preview

The defending Cup champs are soaring again.

The Chicago Blackhawks are back at the stadium where they started this 2022-23 hockey season, visiting the Ball Arena in Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche.

When those two teams met in the season opener, Colorado was hanging a banner to commemorate its 2022 Stanley Cup Championship. The Avalanche won that game 5-2 but the Hawks evened the season series with a 3-2 win at home on Jan. 12.

That loss to the Blackhawks might’ve been the rock-bottom moment for the Avalanche this season, which fell to a 20-17-3 record and was sitting outside of the playoff picture. Since that game, Colorado is 20-5-3 while soaring back up the standings with a chance to catch the division-leading Dallas Stars. Colorado’s at 86 points in 68 games and has two games in hand on each team it’s chasing: the aforementioned Dallas (89 in 70) and the Minnesota Wild (88 in 70). Worth noting that it’s doing all of this without any contributions from captain Gabe Landeskog, who’s been sidelined by a knee injury since September with the hope being that he can return by the postseason — the biggest name on a long list of injuries the Avalanche have dealt with this season.

The Avalanche enter this one on a five-game winning streak and one of the biggest reasons for all of its success lately is Nathan MacKinnon, who missed about a month of games back in December but still has 88 points (30 G, 58 A) in just 57 games — a 1.54 points-per-game rate that’d be best in the league of it wasn’t for that Connor McDavid guy. Colorado may not have quite the scoring depth it did last season but guys like Mikko Rantanen (46 G, 37 A) and Artturi Lehkonen (20 G, 29 A) and J.T. Compher (14 G, 30 A) can all fill up the net as needed.

Cale Makar’s still here as well, providing perhaps the biggest offensive punch from the blue line in the game today and has been steadily back in the lineup after missing a chunk of time in February. He has 61 points (16 G, 45 A) in 55 games, including 16 (3 G, 13 A) in just the last 8 games. MacKinnon also 15 (6 G, 9 A) in the last 8. When those two are on, it’s hard to beat the Avs. Makar also skates with Devon “Not Jonathan” Toews on Colorado’s top D pairing and the second pairing is also quite good with Sam Girard and Bowen “Should’ve Been Drafted By the Hawks in 2019” Byram.

Behind all of that, Alexandar Georgiev could very well be the answer in net for the Avs with a 31-14-5 record, .918 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average this season. He’ll have to maintain that pace in the playoffs, as Colorado lost some key pieces in the offseason — like Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky — and isn’t quite the juggernaut that was able to get by with Darcy Kuemper in net. But if Georgiev’s play makes up for any steps back among the collective skaters in front of him, the Avalanche could be just as tough of an out in the postseason this time around, too.

It’s not quite as interesting in Chicago, of course. There was the NHL debut of Wyatt “Von” Kaiser on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes, but that storyline faded into the background of yet another loss by game’s end. Whether or not he plays again is probably the start and end of the list of intriguing things in this game, from a Blackhawks perspective.

Oh, that and the results from the San Jose Sharks’ game.

Let’s go Hawks(?)

Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche

43.08% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.0% (7th)

41.60% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 51.24% (14th)

2.51 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.25 (14th)

3.51 (25th) — Goals against per game — 2.77 (9th)

53.4% (4th) — Faceoffs — 46.2% (28th)

16.8% (24th) — Power play — 24.4% (5th)

77.0% (20th) — Penalty kill — 79.2% (18th)

How to watch

When: 8 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago Plus

Radio: WGN 720