After going 0-4-1 in their last five games respectively, both the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks will come out hungry tonight, looking to reverse their losing ways. One of the two teams will snap their skid.
The Avs have the edge in the season series against Chicago at 2-1, but the 'Hawks have plenty of offensive firepower in their superstars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. In addition to hopefully providing an offensive spark, recent call-up Tyson Barrie, who will be making his regular season NHL debut tonight, will have to be reliable in the Avs' defensive end as well.
Tonight's game will certainly be a big one for the rookie defenseman, Barrie, but it will also be a big game for the entire Avalanche team. Despite the five consecutive one-goal losses, the Avs still find themselves alive in the playoff hunt. They currently sit only three points behind Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff seed. They are one point behind the ninth and 10th place Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, respectively, and tied in points with the Calgary Flames.
Needless to say, there are many teams alive and battling for those coveted playoff spots.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere will again get the start for Colorado. Although he's lost his last four decisions, he's played well and given the Avs a chance to win in each of those games. He will face Ray Emery, who, like Giguere, was supposed to be the backup but has been given a larger workload due to starter Corey Crawford's struggles.
The Avs have been a streaky team all year and will need to end their current losing streak if they hope to stay in the picture. Even though the Avs have not earned a win since January 21 in Los Angeles, there are still some positives to take out of the last few games.
For the most part, the Avs have played well and it's just been the occasional turnover or bad play that leads to an opposing goal and ultimately a loss. The last two games especially, the Avs played very well and probably deserved to win. The Avs have not been dominated or outclassed, they've just been finding ways to lose. Obviously, this must change very quickly and effectively for them to be a playoff team.
One bit of good news that the Avs received yesterday is the fact that star center Matt Duchene resumed skating. He did not take part in the team's practice, just skated on his own. This is still a very promising sign that hopefully he will be ready for game action in a week or so.
Peter Mueller's absence in Saturday's game was a bit worrisome due to his concussion history, but the team said it was only due to flu-like symptoms and he practiced fully yesterday, skating on a newly-formed line with Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog.
Yesterday marked exactly three weeks until the NHL trade deadline. With the Avs currently where they are in the standings, it is still too early to tell whether or not they will be buyers or sellers come the 27th. Either way, I do expect them to make a move.
Possible candidates to be traded are defensemen Kyle Quincey, Shane O'Brien, Matt Hunwick, and Ryan Wilson. Forward David Jones could also be moved and Paul Stastny's name always comes up in the trade rumors, but with his salary and status as a top-line center, a deal for Stastny would have to be a big one.
The Avs could use a top-line winger as their depth at forward has been tested and exposed all year and former Avalanche wingers Chris Stewart and Wojtek Wolski are rumored to be on the trade block. Obtaining a first round pick in this year's draft would also be ideal as the Avs are currently without one after the Varlamov acquisition.