What We Learned: Avalanche – Blackhawks


That got a little out of hand.

Okay, that got really out of hand. And quickly. It was never really a game, was it? Well, it kind of was for about ten minutes or so and Antti Raanta even had to make a nifty glove save on Ryan O’Reilly. Then the Blackhawks blew the doors off the joint. Patrick Sharp, celebrating his 32nd birthday, scored a pair as a part of a three goal first period. He grabbed the hat trick just :27 into the second and that was basically all she wrote. Except the Blackhawks ran it up to 7-1 before calling it a night.

Quite the contrast from last time, eh? But you see the difference between the elite team (Chicago) and the upstart (Colorado) in games like this. True, most of them won’t be lopsided blowouts but the Blackhawks have near-unparalleled depth and a talent level that might be unmatched. Work needs to be done before the Avalanche are truly on the same level.

Dec 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (35) reacts to being hit in the face with a shot in the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks with referee Francis Charron (6) looking on at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get on with what we learned from Friday night’s 7-2 loss.

Regression To The Mean

Only the truly unwise didn’t see this coming. The Avalanche, in the middle of their hot start, seemed unbeatable. They were scoring with the best of the best, had top ten special teams units and were allowing the fewest goals in the league thanks to an overachieving defense and outstanding play from both goaltenders.

So where did things go wrong? Well, nowhere, really. Things are going as they probably would have just a little later thanks to that red-hot start. Did anyone really expect Semyon Varlamov or J.S. Giguere to continue to play at all-world levels? Giguere, a 35-year-old backup, won his first seven starts with a pair of shutouts and a GAA barely above 1.00. Did anyone really think that would continue? Varlamov went 9-2 with a 2.00 GAA over his first 11 starts. Did anyone think that would continue?

The reality of this team, as we are slowly coming to see, is that some of the pieces are in place but this team is a borderline playoff team at best right now. You don’t go from first overall pick to Stanley Cup overnight. The pieces are there. The fire of Patrick Roy is having a noticeable effect, but this team needs work. They’re a step or two away.

The Hawks Are Kind of Good

For all of the hype around Patrick Kane, you know what he did last night? One assist. And the Blackhawks won handily. You know why? He was outscored by six of his teammates on the night. The Blackhawks are a pretty good team.

Lost in Sharp’s “happy birthday to me” hat trick is the fact that Jonathan Toews had a four point night himself (two goals, two assists). Toews is in the rare territory that he’s neither underrated nor overrated. He gets about the amount of talk and hype that he deserves but it doesn’t feel excessive. He definitely doesn’t get the attention Kane does, but that’s because he’s not he scorer. But he does get all the “outstanding defensive player” talk because, well, he’s an outstanding defensive player.

Dec 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda (8) fight for the puck in the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Duncan Keith added another three assists to his ridiculous total and the Blackhawks got multi-point nights for Michael Handzus, Kris Versteeg and Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Blackhawks are the defending champions for a reason and aside from winning a lot, they occasionally take the time out to throttle someone and let everyone know who the boss is.

Realistic Expectations

My one fear coming from the struggles of the Avalanche of late is that the fans will turn on them. That’s not a slight to Avalanche fans in specific, it’s just that most sports fans are kind of impatient jerks who demand wins and titles all of the time or they will BOO YOU. I don’t know how many of you are football fans, but the Seattle Seahawks got booed the other night. No big deal until you consider that those fans were booing a 12-2 team who was in the process of losing at home for the first time in two years. Fans are awful.

The hot start made it really easy to forget that this is still a really young team with very little talent and depth at defense and a talented goaltender with fragile confidence. They need the support of the fans. They need the cheers even when they might not deserve it. They’re following the right path, playing their butts off while management builds through the draft. The talent, the building blocks for the future, is there. It’s just a matter of letting those youngsters grow.

So don’t boo, please. I don’t want to dislike you.

Next up: 12/29 vs Winnipeg

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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