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Blackhawks' circus trip begins against Avalanche

by Jon Lane

BLACKHAWKS (14-3-4) vs. AVALANCHE (14-5-0)


Last 10: Chicago 8-1-1; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche play the first of five games. They last met on March 18, a 5-2 Blackhawks win paced by a goal and two assists each from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Big story: The circus has invaded United Center, so the Blackhawks begin a marathon seven-game trip in Denver and won't have another home game until Dec. 3. They face an Avalanche team that's lost three straight games since setting a franchise record for the hottest start through 16 games.

"I don't know if three games is a slump," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said Monday after practice. "My standpoint is I haven't changed one bit. The start that we have, people start thinking differently of us, which is what we want at some point, but I haven't changed. It's one game at a time and we'll be focused on Chicago [Tuesday] night."

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago forward Patrick Sharp spoke for the team following a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday when he told reporters "we were all embarrassed." The Blackhawks bounced back the next night with a 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.

''We weren't happy with the last game, obviously,'' goalie Corey Crawford said. ''Tonight was one of our better efforts all around, defensively, from everyone in this room."

The victory also marked Kris Versteeg's return to the Windy City after he was reacquired in a trade with the Panthers. A member of Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team, Versteeg had a goal and assist against the Sharks.

Avalanche: Any turnaround will have to be accomplished without center Matt Duchene for at least the next week. Duchene was compiling a Hart-worthy season (12 goals, 20 points) until he left the game Friday with an oblique injury. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon replaced Duchene between Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly during practice Monday.

"It's an opportunity for others," Roy said. "I'm pretty excited to try Landy with MacKinnon and O'Reilly."

Who's hot: Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp had two goals and an assist in the win against the Sharks, and has seven goals and 13 assists in 21 games. Rookie center Brandon Pirri has goals in three straight games and a four-game point streak. Versteeg has three points in two games with Chicago. Patrick Kane has a point in seven straight … O'Reilly has five goals and two assists in the Avalanche's past seven games, and eight goals and 14 points on the season. MacKinnon has 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 19 games.

Injury report: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa (lower body) will not play. Backup goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) could be out "a bit" according to coach Joel Quenneville. Michal Handzus (upper body) has missed the past eight games. Michael Kostka (lower body) and Brad Mills (lower body) remain sidelined … For Colorado, Alex Tanguay (knee) was placed on IR retroactive to Nov. 2 and Ryan Wilson (back) is out indefinitely, but Andre Benoit (wrist) could return Tuesday.


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