Forgive the Chicago Blackhawks if the United Center looks a little strange to them. After all, it’s been more than a month since they’ve played here, their last being Jan. 26 against the Winnipeg Jets.
Their opponent, however, is becoming a familiar one. The Colorado Avalanche has been a tricky one for the Blackhawks. The Avs have turned things around under new coach Patrick Roy and enter Tuesday’s game just three points (fifth place) behind the Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings.
The Blackhawks will press on without Marian Hossa, who’s out 2-3 weeks with an upper-body injury sustained in Saturday’s Stadium Series game. Brandon Saad will take Hossa’s place on the top line, as well as on the top penalty-killing unit. Andrew Shaw will move to right wing on the third line, with Peter Regin centering. Corey Crawford gets the start.
So while we try to remember how to get to the press box, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Avalanche-Blackhawks game.
1. Use home to your advantage: Yes, it’s been a while since the Blackhawks have been here. They’ll be happy to be home. Fans will be happy to be home. They need to use the energy the building’s expected to have to jump-start them tonight. The Blackhawks were certainly fueled by the Soldier Field crowd on Saturday; now that they’re back indoors, they need to do the same.
2. Stifle Stastny: If Avalanche forward Paul Stastny is bothered by the trade rumors involving him right now, he’s not showing it on the ice. The center has six points in his last four games, including a goal in each of his last two games. He’s done well against the Blackhawks, too; Stastny has seven goals and 14 assists in 25 career games vs. Chicago.
3. Get the top line rolling again: It’s going to be slightly different with Saad there in Hossa’s absence, yet it isn’t. Toews and Saad are used to playing together off last season and Saad said he’s adjusted to being on the right side as opposed to his normal left-wing spot. The Blackhawks got big points out of the stars on Saturday night; they need them again tonight.
4. Get the penalty kill clicking again: The Blackhawks’ kill has improved as the season has progressed and they’ll need it working well against a Colorado power play that’s ranked eighth in the NHL (20.9 percent). Again, Saad will be adjusting some here; he’s on the PK but usually with a different group. Considering how quickly he adapts to everything, this shouldn’t be an issue.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Patrick Sharp: He celebrated like a kid when he opened the Blackhawks’ scoring on Saturday night against Pittsburgh. We’re thinking he’ll be celebrating again tonight.