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Nothing Left to Prove? Blackhawks @ Avalanche Game Preview

April 9, 2010

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST
TV/Radio: Versus, CSN-CH+ / WIND-AM 560
Possible First-Round Opponents: Mile High Hockey

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks (1st or 2nd)
Avalanche (7th or 8th)
L10
6-3-1 3-5-2
Record on the Road: 22-14-4 at Home: 24-13-2
PP% 17.5% (17th) 18.4% (T-12th)
PK 84.7% (6th) 80.1% (21st)

I’m writing this preview “almost blind”–that is to say, I’m on an hour-and-a-half long train ride to run a random errand–so I can’t look things up immediately, though I did make sure to check a couple of things out like special teams and records in the last 10 games. I’m also writing this preview the eve before I fly out to Colorado to follow the Blackhawks in their last road game of the season, so as of this writing I have no idea whether or not the Sharks get two points out of Vancouver or not. (Though now that I’m scheduling to post this it looks like the Sharks are going to win.)

Here’s what I do know of the game in Colorado: with all the playoff spots clinched in the West, and the seeds more or less identified, there is little left to play for, for either team. (Actually, the Blackhawks can try to reach a franchise-high 23 road wins tonight. That’s one more record they can try breaking.) The Blackhawks will finish either first or second in the conference. Vancouver has locked up 3rd, as Phoenix has 4th seed. The bottom four are a murkier lot, but Detroit is almost a sure bet to finish 5th or 6th, and the other three places will go to Nashville, Los Angeles, and Colorado. We know the top seeds and we know the bottom seeds–all we have to do is match them up.

This game is also a potential first-round preview, though I personally don’t know if I really want to take the results as some sort of indicator one way or another. The Blackhawks’ last game against the Blues may have resulted in a win, but boy was it a sloppy one. I get the feeling that the boys are now playing with their eye to the playoffs, so I’m not really expecting them to be in playoff form tonight. I’m not sure how much I agree with this mentality–this “we’ll turn it on when we have to, but we can afford to coast right now so it’s okay” kind of thinking. Then again, the team is full of young guys, a good portion of whom would be college students if they weren’t hockey players, and let’s face it: we’ve all been there. Obviously, student life can hardly be compared to a professional athlete’s lifestyle, but I’m trying not to throw myself over the ledge here, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Colorado, meanwhile, is sort of in the same territory. Their story’s a little bit different, though. Where the Blackhawks are experiencing something of a bump in the road, finding holes in their play that they need to mend and fine-tune so they’re poised for a deep playoff run, the Avs’ recent struggles are less about “finding their game” and more about “regressing to the mean”. This is a team that finished dead last in the conference last year but is now finding itself in a playoff spot–the only team to have done so–and nobody saw them coming. I remember watching the home opener against the Avs and getting slightly concerned because the Hawks are going into a shootout with the Avs, of all teams! (more on the shootouts later), but then they went on a streak that never really kind of stopped.

Along with the Coyotes, the Avs are this year’s feel-good rags-to-riches story. Unlike the Coyotes, however, it’s harder to pinpoint the reason for the Avs’ success other than the fact that Craig Anderson has really been fucking amazing for them. But according to guys at Behind the Net Hockey, who have written extensively about the Avs, the team has also benefited from extreme luck this season. Their average shot differential was in the negatives, one of the lowest in the league, but their shooting percentages were above average–the opposite of Toronto, who had a very high shot differential but piss-poor shooting percentages–and their goalie, of course, continued performing above and beyond the call of duty.

Unfortunately, riding Craig Anderson as hard as the Avs did throughout the season (this is one of the numbers I don’t have, but I’m sure Anderson’s got one of the highest number of games played for the league) probably burned him out, and coupled with most of the players coming back down to earth, the team is stumbling into the post-season. They managed to play enough, however, to steal that final seed from the Calgary Flames, but they’re still 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. To add salt to the wound, Peter Mueller, their trade deadline acquisition who has performed admirably for them, is out for the season with a concussion.

That’s not to say the Hawks should expect a game against the Avalanche to be some sort of cakewalk. It isn’t. While the Avs are the same team that just lost to cellar-dwelling Edmonton in overtime last Wednesday, they are also the same team that won over both Vancouver and San Jose in the shootout and overtime, respectively, in the last few days. Their luck may be running dry, but they’ve still got something to prove, and as we can attest to based on the Blackhawks’ playoff run last year, sometimes that’s more than enough.

Let’s nip their hopes and dreams in the bud, boys. It’s not their time yet.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2010 9:49 AM

    Right now, the goalies with the most games played this season are:
    Martin Brodeur (Devils) – 75
    Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary) – 72
    Jonathan Quick (Kings) – 71
    Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers) – 71
    Evgeni Nobkov (San Jose) – 70
    Craig Anderson (Avalanche) – 70

    • April 9, 2010 10:41 AM

      And I’d just like to tack on that Peter Budaj Budaj Budaj Budaj Rockin Everywhere has been the backup there all season.

      (Nickname Reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oim3ADyRxG8)

      • April 9, 2010 12:28 PM

        And this comment is now relevant because Budaj is starting for the Avs tonight.

  2. Michelle permalink
    April 9, 2010 12:47 PM

    Geez I hate not being able to see youtube at work.

    Can’t wait for this game will be sitting drinking my Blue Moon and enjoy my team, it’s niece and aunt hockey night and those are the best. Something cute seeing a little 2 1/2 year old girl saying get em’ get em’ when she sees a hockey fight and thinking everyone is “Patick Cape” but she can pronounc “refrigerator” don’t get that one.

    • April 9, 2010 4:25 PM

      Haha that sounds awesome. Teaching kids about hockey seems to be every hockey fan’s dream. I don’t know of any other sport where passing the game on to kids/nieces/grandkids/etc is so widespread. Its definitely something I look forward to later in life.

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