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Hawks go for home-and-home sweep of Avs

by Corey Masisak

AVALANCHE (5-2-0) at BLACKHAWKS (4-1-1)


Season Series: This is the second between the two clubs in 48 hours. Chicago won 3-1 on Thursday night at Pepsi Center in Denver. Patrick Sharp had the game-winning goal and Jonathan Toews had three points.

Big Story: The Avalanche are looking for a sixth straight victory on the road to start the season while the Blackhawks are after a third straight win overall.

Team Scope:

Avalanche : The Avs are off to a much faster start than almost anyone could have expected, and strong play by their special teams has been a big part of the success. The Avalanche have the NHL's top-rated power play (29.2 percent) and are fourth on the penalty kill at 91.3 percent. Only Philadelphia and Florida have scored more power-play goals, and the Avs have been particularly deadly on the road (7-for-19).

The offense has been a group project. David Jones and Milan Hejduk have combined for seven goals, while six players have at least three assists.

Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are 4-0-1 since an opening-night loss in Dallas and won a pair of games away from United Center this week. Chicago has all kinds of high-profile offensive talent, but goal prevention has been the big key to its strong start.

The Hawks have has allowed two goals or less in five of the six games, and only 12 total. Starting goaltender Corey Crawford has played in all five contests where the opposing team doesn't get past two on the scoreboard, and with a .940 save percentage he certainly doesn't look like someone who is going to be dealing with any kind of sophomore slump.

"You've got to commend (Crawford) on his focus and his concentration and basically taking off of last year's level and keep trying to get better," coach Joel Quenneville told reporters. "He and (goalie coach Stephane Waite) are continually looking at tapes and watching players and watching shooters and at the same time they look for ways to improve his game and there's movement in the net so it's a nice relationship the two of them have but we like his approach and his demeanor and his attitude."

Who's Hot: Colorado goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere might be the biggest reason for the team's hot start. Varlamov has a .936 save percentage in five starts, and Giguere's .933 isn't too shabby. Varlamov has lost twice, but the team has scored a total of one goal in those two games.

Marian Hossa missed one game with an injury, but otherwise he has recorded a point in every Chicago contest since the opener. He also has a goal in three straight contests in which he has dressed for.

Injury Report: Colorado is without forward Brandon Yip, who broke a forearm in the postseason. The Avalanche have also been without forward Peter Mueller for the past four games. He missed all of last season because of issues stemming from a concussion.

"He's not feeling well," coach Joe Sacco told reporters. "After practice (on Wednesday), he notified us he wasn't feeling well. When we get back from our game in Chicago, we'll see how he is the next day."

The Blackhawks have no significant injuries.

Stat pack: Scoring depth on defense might not have been something people expected to associate with the Avalanche, but Colorado is the only team in the League with four guys on the back end that have collected at least three points so far. Erik Johnson has five, Ryan Wilson has four and both Kyle Quincey and Jan Hejda have three each.

Puck drop: Quenneville is known for tinkering with his top lines, and this year -- with Patrick Kane at center and Patrick Sharp on the right side next to Jonathan Toews has been no exception. One line that has stuck together whenever they are all healthy is the third group -- Dave Bolland, Michal Frolik and Bryan Bickell. They have played together for nine straight games in which all three have dressed going to back to last postseason, and the Blackhawks have yet to lose in regulation with them together.

"That (third) line has always been good," Quenneville said. "We like their role and, basically, the accomplishments they get done on a game-to-game basis."

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