Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Weekly Preview: January 16, 2017

The Blackhawks enter the week coming off of back-to-back loses over the weekend, looking to right the ship and regain the top spot in the Western Conference.

After a 6-0 drubbing by the Washington Capitals on Friday evening, and a tough home-ice loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, the Hawks’ now find themselves looking up at the Wild in the Western Conference standings this morning.

The Blackhawks will look to get back in the win column this week with a pair of road games against the Avalanche and the Bruins, and a visit from the Canucks on the slate for this week. Here is a preview of each game this week, with a look at the game from an opponents angle courtesy of writers that cover those respective teams.

Chicago Blackhawks (27-14-5) vs Colorado Avalanche (13-27-1) – Tuesday 1/17/17 – Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

The Blackhawks will kick off their week when they head to the mile-high city of Denver, to take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Here is my take on the Hawks’, Avalanche match-up, as well as a Colorado angle courtesy of Thomas Ryan Murphy, the Managing Editor over at Mile High Hockey.

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: The Blackhawks will need to pour the shots on the Avs’ goaltenders early and often, The Avalanche have been a bad goaltending team this season, with both Varlamov and Pickard posting save percentages just a tick above .900 this season.

The best was to attack a team with poor goaltending, attack the net and exploit their struggles. The Blackhawks have an offense that puts a ton of shots on goal, and is capable of exploding at any time, and could prove problematic for the Avs’ net-minders.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: The Blackhawks player to watch for on Tuesday evening will be forward Artemi Panarin. In two games against the Avalanche this season, Panarin has already notched a goal and two assists.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks will be coming off of a tough loss to the Minnesota Wild on home ice on Sunday night, and will look to get back to their winning ways against a vulnerable Avalanche team, in the Pepsi Center, where they have not played well this season. I’m going 4-1 Blackhawks in this one.

Avalanche Key(s) to Victory: One of the more under-reported stories of Colorado’s 2016-17 season is how poor the goaltending has been. Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard have taken turns personifying Burgundy & Blue sieves (.901 and .902 SV%) and it’s been the primary factor behind their poor record despite all their other problems.

That said, both are very capable of show stopping performances on any given night; and if they can hold the Blackhawks under three goals, the Avalanche still have the top-end talent to keep up.

Avalanche Player to Watch: Keep an eye out for Nikita Zadorov. In the shadow of Colorado’s litany of roster failures is the development of their big 21-year-old defenseman. He’s already demonstrating elite shot suppression ability (impressive considering the team he plays on) and navigates the puck up ice as well as anyone on the team. He has a way to go as far as asserting himself offensively and he’s still trying to earn special teams minutes, but watching Zadorov attack puck handlers like a heat-seeking dump truck is such a pleasure to watch.

 Game Prediction: Because the Avalanche will be welcoming the Blackhawks to the Pepsi center on Tuesday, I am predicting an almost certain loss. Colorado is just 5-15-1 at home this year and aren’t likely to be getting better in the immediate future. As long as the team is showcasing aging veterans like Jarome Iginla and Francois Beauchemin in prominent roles and not calling up young and more skilled prospects, this team will be charting a direct course for the top lottery position.

Chicago Blackhawks (27-14-5) vs Boston Bruins (23-18-5) – Saturday 1/20/17 – TD Garden, Boston, MA

The Blackhawks will head to Boston to take on the Bruins on Saturday night, here is my Blackhawks, Bruins outlook as well as a Bruins take on the game courtesy of Andrew Thompson, Editor of Causeway Crowd, the Bruins home on the FanSided Network.

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: The Blackhawks and the Bruins will square off for the first time this season on Saturday night at the TD Garden in Boston, the scene of the Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup Championship. The Bruins, much like the Hawks Tuesday opponent, the Avalanche, are a weak goaltending squad, especially outside of Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins goaltenders have a combined save percentage of .911 on the season, but their defense is ranked 8th in the NHL. The Blackhawks will have to concentrate on their net-front presence in this game, and force the issue inside of the blue paint. The Bruins defense has done an excellent job of shielding some less than stellar goaltending this season with solid play. If the Blackhawks want to win this game on the road, they will need some goals in close, as well as a solid defensive effort.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: Patrick Kane will look to have a big night versus the Bruins, he has traditionally played well against Boston, netting seven goals and five assists in 12 regular season meetings with the Bruins. Kane has been heating up as of late, and pouring in the assists en route to taking over the team lead in points. Kane had a five assist week last week, and should be the key to getting the puck in front of the net for the Blackhawks.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks grind out a 2-1 win over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday night, I think that the Hawks are just too strong for the Bruins, and they will be able to into the scoring area enough to squeak out a pair of goals.

Bruins Keys to Victory: For the love of God, keep Tuukka Rask in net! The Bruins have only seemed to have earned a single win without him, and that player got shipped off to the AHL for being sub-par on a good day.  Hopefully, the B’s will keep Jimmy Hayes on the ninth level as well.

The Blackhawks are capable of playing some amazing hockey. As a Bruins fan, it’s hard not to cheer for them (2013 being the exception). The Bruins have to watch Patrick Kane. I mean really watch him. If Kane is given any kind of access to time and space, he can be devastating.

Bruins Player to Watch: When it comes to players to watch for the Bruins, there are a few that people need to keep their eyes on.

Ryan Spooner can be incredibly fast and crafty with the puck. He’s also the kind of player that will have two turnovers in quick succession. If Spooner is on his toes, he’s great. If not, he’s only capable of guarding the popcorn machine on the ninth level.

Torey Krug has had the hot hand of late. The Bruins defenseman has been an unofficial forward for most of the season, and he’s one of the team leaders in assists. He may be small for a blue-liner, but he’s usually where the B’s need him to be. While the Blackhawks usually concern themselves about Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, they occasionally tend to overlook Krug.

Game Prediction: If Tuukka Rask is in net: The Bruins will squeak out a 4-3 victory. Marchand will score, Kane will score. Those two will glare at each other and make smart-alec comments to each other, and it should be a great game.

If Tuukka Rask is not in net: Zane Mcintyre will make a go of it, but the Blackhawks will just light him up like a Christmas tree.  It could easily be a 3-1/4-1 win for the Hawks if it plays out like that.

Chicago Blackhawks (27-14-5) vs Vancouver Canucks (20-19-5) – Sunday 1/22/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Blackhawks square-off against the Vancouver Canucks in their first meeting since the Blackhawks erased a three goal deficit in the final period, and won the game in overtime back in November. Take a look at my preview of the Hawks’, Canucks match-up as well as some Vancouver insight, courtesy of Trevor Beggs, Lead Canucks Writer for The Hockey Writers.

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: Pressure, Pressure, and more Pressure! We’ve seen what happens when the Canucks take a lead in a game this season first-hand already. The Canucks near .500 record tells the story of their inconsistent play as well.

The difference between this meeting, and their November meeting when the Hawks’ erased a three goal deficit on Vancouver, is that the Canucks have been waiting two months for a shot to redeem themselves, so if the Blackhawks think that they can snooze until the third period again, they will get their lumps on Sunday night.

The Hawks’ need to come out strong right away, and look to play 60 minutes of full-energy hockey on the second half of a back-to-back with the Bruins and the Canucks.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: Goaltending is going to be very important for the Blackhawks on Sunday night. The Hawks’ have a habit of playing sluggish, slow-paced hockey on the back-end of back-to-back’s this season.

It will likely be Darling in net for the Hawks’ on Sunday night, with Crawford going on Saturday night in Boston, but either way Coach Q decides to play it, both Crawford and Darling are inside of the top 10 in save percentage this season. Whomever gets the nod, will have the freshest legs on the ice, and will need to have a strong showing.

Game Prediction: I’m going with a 3-2 Blackhawks win on Sunday when the Hawks’ host the Canucks.

Canucks Keys to Victory: After getting up 3-0 on the Blackhawks last time only to lose 4-3 in overtime, the Canucks should realize that no lead is safe against the Blackhawks. They sat back way too much in the third period in their last contest, something that has become a recurring theme all season. The Canucks will need to attack the Blackhawks more, because sitting back will surely end in a loss

Canucks Player to Watch:  Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi have taken over as the offensive leaders for the Canucks. Horvat leads the team with 13 goals and 29 points. He was rewarded with his first selection to the All-Star game. The NHL is starting to take notice, and the Blackhawks would be wise to keep tabs on Horvat throughout the contest.

Game Prediction: The Canucks have been one of the worst road teams in the league, while Chicago has been one of the best on home ice. The Canucks aren’t scoring much, but their goaltending is keeping them in most contests. Chicago wins another overtime game against the Canucks, 2-1.

 

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