CHI: 13-15-6, 32 PTS (7th in Central) COL: 21-9-3, 45 PTS (2nd in Central)
LAST TIME OUT
The Blackhawks took a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday evening on the back of a three-goal night from Patrick Kane and a three-assist performance from Jonathan Toews. Kane now has four goals over Chicago's last four periods of play and Toews (1G, 5A) has points in each of his last three games.
Colorado saw a nine-game point streak (8-0-1) come to an end on Monday with a 5-2 loss in St. Louis to the Blues. Nazim Kadri and Mikko Rantanen each scored in the loss and Nathan MacKinnon added an assist for his team-leading 51st point of the season (20G, 31A).
In two meetings this season - on back-to-back days in late November - the Avalanche took 5-2 and 7-3 wins, respectively. MacKinnon (1G, 3A) led the way in the first meeting at the United Center, while Joonas Donskoi (2G, 2A) and Rantanen (1G, 3A) had four-point nights in the return leg in Colorado. Kane had a goal in each game to lead the Blackhawks in scoring for the season series.
Duncan Keith will make his return to the lineup after a nine-game absence from a groin injury with Brent Seabrook making way in his place. Corey Crawford will start in net and head coach Jeremy Colliton said Zack Smith (flu-like symptoms) is expected to play despite missing morning skate.
Here are the lines Chicago used in morning skate, with Dylan Sikura presumptively taking Smith's role on the fourth line:
Keith - Murphy Gilbert - Gustafsson Maatta - Boqvist
Chicago and Colorado will complete their four-game season series in the span of 23 days by the week's end. Following two tilts in as many days on the heels Thanksgiving, the two sides meet at the United Center on Wednesday night and again in Denver on Saturday night.
"It's always fun to play against good teams and they're a division team too. We have to take points from them," defenseman Erik Gustaffson said. "It's always fun but we're playing them Saturday too so what we do tonight we can take into the next game we play away in Denver."
The Avalanche will be the first Central Division team that the Blackhawks complete a season series with and just the second from the Western Conference (Vegas - 3GP).
In the first two meetings, the Avalanche outscored the Blackhawks 12-5 despite the Blackhawks leading in shots 36-23 on Nov. 29 and the teams tying in shots 29-29 on Nov. 30.
Chicago has held an opponent under 30 shots five times this season, including both outings against Colorado. But the chances they did allow were high-danger ones. The Avs logging two of their top five shot conversion totals of the year, scoring on 24.1 and 21.7 percent of their shots, respectively.
"We have to help our goalies a little bit more," Gustafsson said of those two games. "We turned the puck over at our blue line, their blue line, we got caught with three guys below the circles in their zone, when they come in on the rush it (was) always 3-on-2s or 4-on-2s and 2-on-1s.
"We've got to be ready because when you look at their lineup, all four lines can always bring something. They're skilled guys, they know what they're doing but we have to play better ... we have been doing better the last couple games but when we played away against them, I think we lost 5-6 pucks at the blue lines."
"Sometimes when you limit their chances they capitalize on the one or two that they needed and that's all it takes," Keith said. "Then the game, the score dictates how teams play sometimes whether you're taking chances or trying to create more chances. Every game is different and as a player our job is just to focus on being as good as we can, bring our strength - whatever that is as an individual - and try to bring that to help the team win."