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Wednesday Night Hockey

Pluses, minuses for Avalanche-Blackhawks

MacKinnon-Kane battle highlights Central Division rivalry, says NHL analyst Weekes

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks appear to be heading in opposite directions.

Colorado (21-9-3) was defeated by the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Monday to end its nine-game point streak (8-0-1). Chicago (13-15-6) defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-3 on Monday but had lost 10 of 13 prior (3-8-2) and are tied for last in the Western Conference.

It should be a good game when the Central Division rivals meet at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS).

Here's my breakdown of the game:

 

Avalanche

Pluses: They have gotten great goaltending from Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Grubauer is 10-6-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .912 save percentage, and Francouz is 9-2-1 with a 2.26 GAA and .932 save percentage. Grubauer entered the season as the No. 1 but got injured and Francouz played very well in his absence giving the Avalanche a nice tandem.

Colorado also has one of the best top lines in the game. Nathan MacKinnon is among the League-leaders with 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) and has great chemistry with Mikko Rantanen (22 points in 17 games) and Gabriel Landeskog (10 points in 17 games). The latter two were injured but have returned and make this a dynamic line when coach Jared Bednar decides to play them together.

Video: NJD@COL: Landeskog finishes perfect passing with PPG

Lastly, they have great depth. Three forwards acquired in the offseason (Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri) rank third, fourth and fifth on the team in points. Donskoi has 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists), Burakovsky has 23 (12 goals, 11 assists) and Kadri has 22 (11 goals, 11 assists). Add that to rookie defenseman Cale Makar, who has 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 29 games, and this is a scary team.

Minuses: Makar has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury and won't play against the Blackhawks. The Avalanche have gone 2-1-1 without him, but he's obviously been a big part of their team, so having him out for an extended amount of time isn't ideal.

Colorado hasn't fared well on special teams this season; they are 78.5 percent on the penalty kill, which ranks 20th in the League, and are 16th on the power play (19.0 percent). If they can improve these, they would be a really tough team to play against because of how well-rounded they are on offense, defense and in goal.

 

Blackhawks

Pluses: Patrick Kane is still Patrick Kane. The forward once again leads the Blackhawks in goals (18) and points (40) and is on pace for his second straight season of at least 100 points. He's two goals away from his 13th straight season with 20 goals or more and has never scored fewer than 64 points in a full NHL season. 

Video: MIN@CHI: Kane wires home wrist shot for PPG

Chicago has used nine defenseman this season and they've each played at least 10 games. They've combined for 12 goals and 50 points, which may not seem like a lot since some teams have defensemen who have scored 20 or more points, but they've done it by committee. Erik Gustafsson and Brent Seabrook lead their defense with three goals each, and Gustafsson is the high man in points with 13.

Minuses: Chicago has been far too inconsistent this season. Since winning four straight games from Nov. 10-17 against good teams -- Toronto Maple Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres -- they are 4-8-2. That includes winless streaks of three games (twice) and four games (once). Let's see if they can follow up an impressive win against the Wild on Monday.

Besides Kane, Brandon Saad is the only other player on the team with at least 10 goals (he has 11). And only four players have at least 20 points (Kane; Jonathan Toews, 24; Alex DeBrincat, 24; Dylan Strome 23). Scoring depth has long been a strength of this team but in recent seasons, they've become too reliant on Kane, which is one reason they haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past two seasons.

 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Who will Chicago match up against the MacKinnon line?

2. Play of Gustafsson, who has looked great recently.

3. How will Kirby Dach, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, fare now that he will remain in the NHL this season?

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