Blackhawks give Devils their due; face Avs after holiday break

Monday night, the Blackhawks had one of those games where they looked like they were playing an AHL team. However, their opponents were the New Jersey Devils, who have struggled most of the season.

After having a rough start to the season, the Devils have only 37 points (15-16-7) after losing to the Blackhawks. In the Eastern Conference, they have barely enough points to keep them bouncing in and out of the third spot in the Metropolitan division, which has turned into the NHL's worst division this season. Heading into the game versus Chicago, they sat in third in their division; after the night's games, they had fallen back to 10th in the East.

The Blackhawks played a dominant game to start the Christmas break, registering 37 shots on goal (plus 18 more attempted/missed), while holding the Devils to just 12 SOG. They were a stellar 68% on faceoffs, and had ten different players collect points on five goals.

While the Devils are known to play a choking style of defense, clogging up the center of the ice, that didn't seem to matter to the Blackhawks, who showed their usual speed. A solid forecheck cut off most of the Devils' ability for shots on goal.

Patrick Sharp opened the scoring 12:59 into the first, and the Blackhawks never gave up their lead. Chicago held New Jersey to just two shots on goal in the first period.

The Devils would manage their first goal early in the second when Stephen Gionta made it 1-1. The Blackhawks would respond with a Patrick Kane goal less than three minutes later, and Bryan Bickell would stretch the lead to 3-1 with his sixth goal of the season.

Michael Ryder pulled the Devils within one with an unassisted goal in the first minute of the third. Patrick Sharp would score his second of the night to make the lead 4-2.

Nick Leddy continued the Blackhawks' blue line's excellent offensive effort when he got his fifth of the year by scoring the only power play goal of the game, with just over seven minutes remaining on the clock. The Blackhawks would take the win 5-2.

Antti Raanta continues to play well as he shoulders the primary goaltending load while Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin remain on IR. Crawford has begun skating again on his own in Chicago; it is expected he will likely rejoin the lineup in early January.

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The Blackhawks (26-7-6) will host the Colorado Avalanche (23-10-3) on Friday night after the holiday break. The Avs are mostly healthy, with only Alex Tanguay currently on IR. Ryan Wilson has returned to the lineup, but remains a team scratch.

Colorado is coming off a pair of shootout losses versus the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. The Avs continue to play well under first-year NHL coach Patrick Roy; they have a firm grip on third place in the Central division with as many as three games in hand over most of the other teams in the West.

If down in a game, the persistent Avalanche can never be counted out - one need only look back at their Monday night game versus the Sharks. With under two minutes remaining in the game, Colorado scored twice - and San Jose once - to tie the game 4-4 to push the game into overtime, and eventually, a shootout. It was an unusual third period for the Avalanche, as they rank 26th overall for third-period goals.

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Game info: Friday, Dec. 27 at 7:00 p.m. CST at the United Center

Where to watch: CSN-Chicago; Altitude TV (Denver); listen on WGN-720 AM radio



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