Two teams, that are looking for very different gifts this Christmas, face off on Friday in a Western Conference battle.
The Chicago Blackhawks have had a very disappointing first half of the season, which resulted in the firing of the coach that brought the city three Stanley Cups since 2010.
The Colorado Avalanche, on the other hand, have the top two scorers in the league, but their ascent to the top of the standings has been slowed by some shaky goaltending (not uncommon in the NHL).
With a big matchup before the Christmas break, both teams could use this win. Let’s look at who we think you should be betting on in this game.
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The Blackhawks are playing some better hockey recently, but how much of that is attributed to new coaching is hard to say.
The core of the team remains the same, led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The two superstars are clearly on the downside of their careers but by no means should they be written off. Kane had two goals in Thursday’s win, and the team is trying to surround them with young talent.
Yes, the team has had a carousel of goalies this year due to injuries, but they won the Cup with the same strategy (does anyone remember Aanti Niemi?). Winning the second half of a back-to-back is tough, but the Blackhawks can do it if they can stay out of the penalty box and get a key goal from someone like Alex DeBrincat.
These days, everyone who talks about the Avalanche brings up the sizzling seasons from Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. While there is no doubt that these three continue to dazzle fans with their talent and scoring prowess, one of the moves that went somewhat unnoticed in the offseason was the signing of Phillip Grubauer in nets.
The Avalanche already had a starter in Varlamov, and Grubauer’s performance in Washington the last couple of years certainly had him in the running for a starting job somewhere. However, the allure of this Avalanche’s young talent won out, and the shaky start for Varlamov has thrust Grubauer into the cage more times than he may have thought he might see.
The results have been great – an 8-2 record for the team. His GAA has been higher than normal, but that can be attributed to the weaker defense in front of him. If Grubauer plays and gets the kind of scoring that the Avalanche have been producing lately, then it won’t matter if he gives up 3 goals in this game.
We expect a big push by the speedy Avalanche forwards against a tired Chicago defense, which may end up putting them on the power play which has been potent this season. A goal by one of the Colorado defense would put them over the top.
This game is the back half of back-to-back games for the Blackhawks while the front end of the same for Colorado. Home ice advantage, especially in Denver, factors into this game, and as a result, Colorado is the heavy favorite on the money line.
With this in mind, we actually think the game will be much closer than the money line would indicate. We predict a tight matchup that may end up in a Shootout.
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