Five things to watch: Blackhawks vs. Avalanche

Five things to watch: Blackhawks vs. Avalanche
December 27, 2013, 1:00 pm
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The holiday break is over and the Chicago Blackhawks, like many other NHL teams, resume play tonight. So what greets them right off their three-day respite: a back-to-back. First against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night and then another divisional game at the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.

Merry Christmas.

But first things first: The Blackhawks face an Avalanche squad that has gone 5-2-0 against Chicago in the last seven meetings. Factor in that they’re now in the same division, and obviously this one looms large coming out of the break.

So while you stand in line returning gifts that were the wrong size, wrong color or just plain wrong, we give you the Five Things to watch in tonight’s Blackhawks-Avalanche game.

1. Travel woes? Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can’t play, practice or travel on Dec. 26. That’s all good if you’re the team hosting on Dec. 27. But what if, like Colorado, you’re flying in the day of the game? We’ll find out soon enough. The Blackhawks will want to come out strong immediately and test the Avalanche’s travel legs. “We have to come out hot, put the pressure on early and withstand the whole 60 minutes,” Andrew Shaw said.

[MORE: Raanta in net, Crawford on ice ahead of Blackhawks-Avalanche]

2. About those 60 minutes. The Avalanche have played that, and then some, lately. In a few games, the Avs have had a late lead, only to lose it and salvage a point in the shootout. Overall, the Avs have scored only 29 third-period goals, compared to 47 for the Blackhawks. If the Blackhawks play this third as strong as they have many others previous, they’ll be OK.

3. Paul Stastny has had some good outings against the Blackhawks, and they’ll have to keep an eye on him. In 24 career games against the Blackhawks, Stastny has six goals and 14 assists. His last contest against them was another successful one, as he recorded a goal and an assist in the Avalanche’s 5-1 smattering of the Blackhawks.

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4. Keep Antti Raanta fresh. The Blackhawks always want to limit an opponent’s shots and scoring opportunities, but they’ll probably want to make special note of it tonight for several reasons. First, it’s always easier to beat an opponent if you keep it away from your goaltender. But there’s a strong chance Raanta could go tomorrow against the Blues, another division heavyweight. This is a big weekend for the Blackhawks and Raanta, and they’ll need to be smart.

5. Who’s our pick to click on the evening? We had Marian Hossa last game (two nifty assists counts as a win for us, by the way). Tonight, we’ll go with Jonathan Toews. Linemates Hossa and Sharp have been racking up points, and Toews himself does have nine assists in his last 14 games. But he has just one goal in that span. We say the goals come this evening.