The Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche will face off for the first time of the 2013-14 season Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. It signifies not only a showdown between the Central Division’s two best teams, and for the Blackhawks signifies the beginning of the yearly Circus Trip, a grueling seven games in eleven days trip which will be the team’s first true test.
The Blackhawks will be assisted by Colorado’s 6-4-0 previous 10-game record and the fact that they are losing key players as quickly as they are managing to lose momentum. “I don’t know if three games is a slump,” Avs coach Patrick Roy told the assembled media after practice Monday.
Unfortunately for Roy, stars are what get teams out of slumps, and it appears he will be without one of his Tuesday night. Matt Duchene, the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals and 20 points. He will miss a week with an oblique injury he suffered Saturday.
The Avs will need to play an aggressive, simplified game, against an explosive Blackhawks offense that seems to be hitting its stride as of late. That task is easier said than done. However, as the team’s leading hitter, Jan Hejda is tied for 34th in the league with only 53 in 19 games.
The Blackhawks have found strength at the top three lines as of late, led by Patrick Sharp, Brandon Pirri and Kris Versteeg. Sharp has been outstanding this year, tallying 20 points to date and improving the top line on the way to an impressive +10 rating.
Pirri, for his part, was promoted when second line center Michal Handzus went down with an injury, and has not looked back since. Despite being thrown to the wolves and placed on the second line after only a few NHL stars this year, Pirri has impressed and currently has a four-game point streak.
Versteeg is the newest member of the Blackhawks, but for now has found the back of the net with ease. Versteeg was acquired to fill a hole on the third-line wing, and has done so effectively, bolstering three points in his first two games back. It will be interesting to see what form of leadership role the veteran Versteeg will take, but the forthcoming trip would certainly be a great place to start.
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