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PREVIEW: Blackhawks Open 2021-22 Season Against Avalanche

Chicago, Colorado meet in Denver to open full 82-game slate

by Carter Baum @CarterBaum / Blackhawks.com

TIME: 9 p.m. CT
TV: TNT | RADIO: WGN 720-AM | STREAM: Watch TNT

In Chicago, the temperatures are cooling, the leaves are changing and, for the first time in two years, the best part of fall is officially back: Blackhawks hockey. 

The Blackhawks open their 2021-22 campaign on Wednesday night in Colorado against the Avalanche in front of a national TV audience on TNT -- the first in a full 82-game slate as the NHL returns to a regular season. 


2020-21 TEAM RECORDS
  • CHI: 24-25-7, 55 PTS (6th in Central)
  • COL: 39-13-4, 82 PTS (1st in West)

PROJECTED LINEUP

The Blackhawks will open the year with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, head coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed after morning skate. 

Dylan Strome, Adam Gaudette and Erik Gustafsson are the scratches against the Avalanche. 

The team did not do line rushes during in Denver, but based on practice on Tuesday, the lineup could look something like this: 

DeBrincat - Johnson - Kane
Kubalik - Toews - Kurashev
Borgstrom - Dach - Hagel
Khaira - Entwistle - Carpenter

de Haan - Jones
McCabe - Murphy
Stillman - Mitchell

Fleury
Lankinen

Video: Colliton on opening night lineup


HELLO, AGAIN

After pandemic-forced division shuffle last year, the Blackhawks and Avs once again find themselves division foes in the Central for the 2021-22 campaign. With all regular-season games taking place solely within the division last year, the two clubs haven't squared off in nearly 22 months. 

Chicago took the last meeting against Colorado on Dec. 21, 2019 in their most recent to Denver -- the lone win against the Avalanche on the season. The Blackhawks recorded four third-period markers to take the comeback win and Jonathan Toews finished with a game-high four points (2G, 2A). 

All-time, Chicago has a 63-62-9-9 record against Colorado, including a 27-35-6-3 mark in road contests. 


OPENING TEST

Chicago's revamped roster begins the year without much schedule leeway, opening up against the defending Presidents' Trophy winners on the road Wednesday night. Aside from the reigning top record, Colorado also owns the league's second-best opening night record all-time at 23-11-7 (min. 10 games) and holds a 4-1-0 record in season debuts under head coach Jared Bednar.

"I think we've done a really good job preparing, we've done a good job of giving ourselves a chance with our work ethic in camp," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Now we want to put it together and test ourselves. It's a really good team that we're going to play. We want to compete with them. In our division, they're the standard, so let's see where we're at. I think that's the message."

"It's hard in this league, especially in our division, it's hard to climb if you get buried early," Colliton added. "We know the importance of a good start, but at this point, it's just getting ready for the first puck drop."

Video: Seth Jones ahead of season opener


CAPTAIN COMEBACK

Among the busy offseason of moves the Blackhawks made to improve their roster, perhaps the biggest came in the form of not a move, but a return, as No. 19 prepares to play his first NHL regular-season contest in over 19 months. 

Toews missed all of the 2020-21 campaign dealing with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, which left him feeling drained and lethargic. He returned to Chicago and to the ice with his teammates in late June and has been put through a vigorous camp to get back into NHL shape. The captain skated in four preseason games, scoring three assists and two goals in his final two contests, respectively, and appears full steam ahead for his return to the lineup on Wednesday night. 

"I'm pretty happy given what the last month has looked like, what I felt like going into training camp," he said over the weekend. "I just feel like I've taken a step almost every day. It's pretty exciting to think that way, that I've got to stay with it and keep doing all the little things right, but ultimately I like that I feel confident, my game is there, when the energy is there."

"He does a lot of different things for us that we were missing last year with faceoffs, battles," said Colliton of Toews' return. "He's so good down low in the offensive zone, there's not many guys who are better. It just adds a different dimension to our team. Obviously he's an excellent penalty killer, plays net-front on the power play, so there's lots of different things we can do."


NEW FACES

The Blackhawks opening-night roster features six players who are set to make their team debuts.

Henrik Borgstrom, Tyler Johnson, Jujhar Khaira, Seth Jones, Jake McCabe and Marc-Andre Fleury would all appear in their first games in a Blackhawks sweater should they dress on Wednesday night. The group boasts a combined five Stanley Cup rings, 10 All-Star Game appearances, one Vezina Trophy and over 2,700 games of NHL experience.

"We like our team a lot. We like our depth. I think we're bigger. We're faster. We're able to play a more winning style, in my opinion," Colliton said. "We're going to have to get better as the year goes on. The team and the performance that we have on day one, if that's as good as it gets, then it won't be good enough. That's the case with most of the teams in the league. Really like the team we have. I like the energy, I like the attention to detail that we've had so far in camp, the work ethic and that should give us a chance."

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: This is our team. pic.twitter.com/MDu9am1OLo


MAKING THE CUT

On a competition-heavy training camp roster at both ends of the rink, Borgstrom, MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev rose to the top of the forward competition in making the opening-night lineup. 

On the back end of the roster, the defensive depth battle was affected by a handful of camp injuries as Caleb Jones (left wrist strain), Wyatt Kalynuk (right ankle sprain) and Alec Regula (lower back) all begin the season on injured reserve.

In turn, youngsters Ian Mitchell and Riley Stillman join a veteran defensive core of McCabe, Seth Jones Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy, as well as newly-re-signed Erik Gustafsson on the season-opening trip. All will have a chance to stake their claim to a starting role in the opening weeks before regained health gives way to healthy competition on the blue line once again.

Video: Borgstrom on return to Denver, opening night


BACK ON THE PROWL

Alex DeBrincat finished the 2020-21 season on a career-long seven-game goal streak (9G) and an eight-game point streak (9G, 3A), matching a season high and the longest by a Blackhawk during the 2020-21 campaign. The winger was second in team scoring on the season as a whole with 56 points (32G, 24A) in 52 games and was Chicago's scoring leader over the final two months of a bounce back 2020-21 campaign. 

"Part of the game is scoring goals, but you can't always control that," Colltion said of DeBrincat finding his 2018-19 form after a down 2019-20 statistically. "What you can control is how you play and I felt like he was building the habits and the base of his game that's going to lead to long-term success. What his shooting percentage is or what his final numbers are, I don't know what they're going to be, but he's a really good player. He's an elite player in the league."

Playing on a highly-skilled line during most of camp alongside Patrick Kane and Tyler Johnson and finishing the preseason with multi-point affairs in two of his three skates, DeBrincat appears poised to carry that momentum forward into the new year. 

"I want to have a good year, obviously," he said. "I think we have a lot of guys that can score on this team... We have a good team this year. We have a lot of new faces that can score and I think it's just sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. We'll see how it goes this."

The Farmington Hills, Michigan native is the seventh U.S.-born skater in NHL history with a 30+ and 40+ goal campaign within their first four seasons, per NHL Stats.

His 32 markers during the 2020-21 campaign were third in the NHL and his 1.08 points per game average was a new career high. He also matched Darryl Suter and Bill Mosienko for the third longest goal streak (7 games) by a Blackhawks player age 23 or younger.

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