AVALANCHE (2-1-0) at BLACKHAWKS (1-1-1)
Season series -- The Hawks and Avs split four games last year. Colorado took the final meeting, 5-1, on March 8, 2009.
Big Story -- Despite dramatically different expectations for each team, Colorado has more points than Chicago on the young season. With both teams coming off losses, however, the Blackhawks and Avalanche will be looking at Saturday as a chance to turn the recent tide.
Avalanche -- The Avs have been a pleasant surprise, knocking off potential Cup contenders San Jose and Vancouver in their first two games by a combined six goals. Colorado missed its first 3-0 start since moving to Denver by falling to Nashville in its last outing, but things could still be looking up for the Avalanche.
In three games, Milan Hejduk has notched a team-leading four assists, while Wojtek Wolski has already scored three goals. Craig Anderson has provided solid play in net, posting a 1.68 GAA so far in his first season with Colorado.
With a healthy Paul Stastny and rookie Matt Duchene in tow, there is plenty to be excited about for a team that won a playoff series just two seasons ago. If there is a time the bottom drops out, however, this could be it. Saturday's visit to the United Center will be the second stop on a seven-game road swing -- the Avs' longest since an eight-gamer in 1981 when they were known as the Quebec Nordiques.
Blackhawks -- Chicago missed a big opportunity to take early control of the Central Division race Saturday in a 3-2 loss at Detroit. The Hawks struck first, but the Wings responded with three second-period goals to take the lead, eventually holding on despite Chicago outshooting Detroit 15-4 in the third.
Saturday is Chicago's first home game of the season, and with coach Joel Quenneville stressing that his team stay positive, it wouldn't be a surprise if the typical throng of support at the United Center made the Hawks more at ease. If Chicago gets off on the right foot at home, it could lead to a nice early-season run. The Hawks play eight of their 10 remaining games this month in the Windy City.
Who's Hot -- After splitting time with Florida's Tomas Vokoun a year ago, Anderson is off to a strong start as the full-time starter in Colorado. Anderson is 2-1 in three games, including a shutout win over the Canucks, and has stopped 107 of the 112 shots he's faced for a .955 save percentage.
Chicago's Kris Versteeg has avoided an early sophomore slump, notching at least a point in each of the Hawks' first three games. Patrick Sharp has also turned the trick, pacing the team with three goals.
Injury Report -- Dave Bolland is questionable with a back injury for Chicago, while Ben Eager has joined Marian Hossa and Adam Burish on injured reserve. Colorado will miss David Jones and Tom Preissing, both of whom are out for several weeks, while Brandon Yip is on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.
Stat Pack -- One of the secrets to Colorado's early success, aside from the play of Anderson, has been superior special teams. The Avs have cashed in on five of 13 power-play opportunities. Their 38.5 percent success rate is fifth-best in the League, while their performance down a man has been even better. Colorado's penalty kill is tied with Columbus for second-best in the NHL at 90.9 percent.
Puck Drop -- Colorado had a strong showing against two of the better teams in the West, but Saturday will be the Avs' first road test against a legitimate contender. While the Hawks would probably say their results haven't yet reached their standards, their strong finish Thursday night could mean they're getting their feet under them just in time to open up the home schedule.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com