Photo: Randy Guttierrez/AP

The Blackhawks’ season looked, at the outset, to be fraught with peril: shaky backup goaltending, injuries to key forwards, defensive pairing mix-and-match, questions about conditioning, and the ever-present ticking time bomb that exists in the form of newly-acquired winger Daniel Carcillo. The first six games of the season find the Blackhawks with a 4-1-1 record, and showing the potential for another Stanley Cup run. Thursday’s game was a good example of that potential.

Watching the Blackhawks take on the Avalanche it was apparent that these were two closely-matched teams: young and fast, with quick and dangerous snipers up front and scary-good goaltending on the back end. Thursday’s game saw lots of end-to-end action, goaltenders peppered with shots — and standing on their heads to keep their teams in it, and a lot of quick transitions at the blue line.

Tonight, we are going to see that same Avalanche team again; and again, the Blackhawks are going to have to play the same fast, disciplined game to get past them.

It was difficult to see a flaw in the Blackhawks’ game on Thursday. There were lapses, sure. But overall the team came in prepared, rested, and motivated. Corey Crawford continued his exemplary play, boosting this save percentage on the year to 0.935, and dispelling any preconceptions of a “sophomore slump.” The Blackhawks were transitioning well, keeping Colorado from getting many chances through the middle, and winning battles on the boards at both ends.

But from where I was sitting, the difference in the game was team play. When Colorado went on the attack, there was very little coherence: it was largely improvised and very effectively broken up by the Hawks’ defense. But Chicago had a methodical precision to their attack, and they executed it extremely well — particularly in the second period, racking up 12 shots and forcing Semyon Varlamov to make numerous game-saving stops. That, to me, was the difference. If the Blackhawks can do that again tonight, they’ll put themselves in position to win.

Some things that apparent from the Blackhawks’ first six games. “Car Bomb” Carcillo appears to have decided (or been convinced) to put his wicked ways behind him. His play to date has been sharp, quick, and feisty — but under control. To date, he has as many points as he has penalty minutes. I think the club and the fans will be thrilled if he can keep that pace up for the entire season. He is working out exceptionally well with our top-six forwards, an idea I recall saying was nothing short of insanity. Hey, statistically speaking it’s impossible to be right every time. Chalk this one up to a pleasant surprise.

But I was right about the fact that, despite the decent results, the defensive pairings are not working out. Putting our two fastest guys together, our two hardest-hitting guys together, and our two slowest guys together is not causing problems. Yet. Soon, teams will figure out that you can catch Nick Leddy pinching at the wrong time and break a guy loose at the red line for a sweet breakaway. Soon, teams will figure out that neither Steve Montador nor Sean O’Donnell can catch an opposing forward in a foot race from the blue line in. And that’s when Corey Crawford will start facing 40 shots a night instead of 30, and the Blackhawks will start losing 3 – 2 instead of winning 2 – 1.

Put Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook back together. Put Montador up with Niklas Hjalmarsson, and move Leddy back with O’Donnell until he learns to play his position — and not keep pinching below the goal line. While he’s off on his ill-conceived Bobby Orr safaris, his position has to be covered by a forward who is not trained to play defense. That creates a defensive liability that teams can easily exploit while Leddy is off trying to play hero. The kid needs to be reined in, and maybe it’s time to let Sami Lepisto get some exercise until Leddy gets that through his head.

Administrative nonsense: expect a substantial delay in the opening face-off tonight, as the Blackhawks organ-eye-zation unveils and dedicates the statues of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita that will reside outside the United Center. Corey Crawford starts in net again for the ‘Hawks, Varlamov gets the call for the Avs. Colorado’s Brandon Yip and Peter Mueller continue their stint on IR, and rumor is that Matt Hunwick may make an appearance for the Avalanche. There should be no lineup changes for the Blackhawks.

Oh, and for your pre-game chuckle: Carcillo has given line-mate Patrick Kane a new nickname that seems to be sticking: “Bieber.”

Ceremony begins at 7:30pm at the United Center, figure about 7:50 or so before they are actually playing hockey. TV coverage is on WGN channel 9; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM subscribers will find the game on channel 207; and Sirius Premiere customers should tune to channel 216.

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