Avalanche-Blackhawks Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks’ offensive dominance has been unmatched

this season. A recent stretch of defensive consistency adds to the

puzzle for opponents as the Central Division leaders look for their

seventh win in nine games.

The Blackhawks return from the NHL’s holiday break to host the

Colorado Avalanche on Friday night in the first of back-to-back

weekend matchups against the two teams chasing them in the

division.

Chicago (26-7-6) is 6-1-1 since Dec. 8, and it has allowed more

than two regulation goals once in that time. A 5-2 home win Monday

over New Jersey was the Blackhawks’ 15th game with at least five

goals, and they outshot the Devils 37-12.

“I thought it was one of our better games all year as far as

puck possession, directing plays,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I

thought we did everything we were looking to do in the game. I

liked their energy, I liked their thought process, our

purpose.”

Patrick Kane scored for a third straight game to extend his

point streak to 12 games. He has four points in his last two games

against Colorado.

The Avalanche (23-10-3) are completing a difficult three-game

road stretch that has started with a pair shootout losses against

Los Angeles and San Jose. They led three times in Monday’s 5-4

defeat to the Sharks and settled for a point.

“It’s too bad, but at the same time we showed a lot of

character,” coach Patrick Roy said. “We played well in the third

period. We scored two big goals and then they made a great play to

tie it.”

In their only meeting so far this season, the Avalanche beat the

Blackhawks 5-1 on Nov. 19 in Colorado – the only time this season

Chicago has failed to score at least twice.

Against the Sharks, the Avalanche scored for the fourth straight

game on the power play after going 11 games without doing so.

They’ve gotten it together with a 5-for-15 mark in their last

four.

It has some considerable ground to cover to reach Chicago’s

level. The Blackhawks have 15 power-play goals in their last 12

games, a league high since Nov. 30 while converting at a 30.6

percent rate.

While the Blackhawks’ offensive consistency has them scoring a

league-best 3.62 goals per game, their recent stretch of solid play

in the defensive zone has come without No. 1 goaltender Corey

Crawford.

Crawford has been out since suffering a lower-body injury on

Dec. 8 and was scheduled to resume practicing this week.

Antti Raanta has filled in for Crawford and fellow injured

goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who entered the season as Chicago’s

backup, with an 8-1-2 season record and 1.47 goals-against average

in the team’s current 3-0-1 stretch.

The blue-liners in front of Raanta have been doing more than

providing him with comfortable shot totals. Led by Duncan Keith’s

33 points, Chicago defensemen lead the NHL with 2.87 points a

game.

“I love our defense. They’ve been huge for us the past two

seasons,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “They all skate well. They

all move the puck and with the forwards that we have in our locker

room, we like to get it with speed and they do a good job of

getting it to us. Our defense (has) been the key to our team this

year.”

The Blackhawks visit St. Louis, the team between Chicago and

Colorado in the standings, on Saturday.