Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

My fear as we entered January was that the Blackhawks would bring it during the big games and slack off with the so-called “lesser” opponents. I mentioned Colorado as one of the teams we should not look past. I also mentioned Edmonton. Mmm-hmm. Well, it’s time for the Colorado game. And guess what? The Avalanche are on a friggin’ tear.

3 wins in a row, 8 wins in their last 9 games, 3 straight wins on the road, and victories over Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Jose and Tampa Bay — all in the month of December. Colorado is getting solid and occasionally sensational goaltending from what has become its tandem of J.S. Giguere and Semyon Varlamov, and putting up the necessary goals on a night-in, night-out basis to bring home the wins.

This is not the Colorado team that we beat 3-1 out in Denver on October 20. If the Blackhawks treat it that way, this is another Edmonton loss waiting to happen.

Colorado’s season can be broken up into two parts: before December 15th, and after December 15th. Take defenseman Jan Hejda as an example. Hejda is tied for worst-place on the team with a -12 plus/minus rating. BUT: he hasn’t had a game in the minus column since December 15th. Goaltender J.S. Giguere: before December 15th, 4 wins & 4 losses; after December 15th, 5 wins, only 1 loss. Before December 15th, Colorado’s team goals-for average was 2.45 — after that date, 2.75. Before December 15th, goals-against average a whopping 3.03 — after, down to just 2.00. Starting to see a pattern here?

Nobody on the Avalanche is “lighting it up,” so to speak — but they are getting contributions on the scoresheet from a wide range of players. The Avs have 13 players at or above 10 points, 1 fewer than the Blackhawks. But they have 8 players at 6 or more goals, 1 more than the Blackhawks. And despite this, nobody on the Avalanche has 30 points — the Blackhawks have 4, and 2 of those guys are above 40. Long and short: the Avalanche have a lot of ways they can hurt you, and since December 15th they have been using all of them.

For the Blackhawks, there was no morning skate today as the team made their way back from Philly. Last night’s losing effort represented both the best and the worst of what this team has to offer: potent and opportunistic offense; porous and reactionary defense; often brilliant goaltending with inconsistent rebound control; and special teams units that are akin to blind mice — they, too, occasionally find some cheese, but it’s not because they’re in any way adept at it.

You can expect the same lineup as the Blackhawks take the ice tonight, though the perpetual line-juggling will, no doubt, continue. We saw another solid outing from rookie Jimmy Hayes (please, let’s not stick the kid with ‘Hazer’ as a nickname), and fresh-off-the-choo-choo winger Andrew Shaw notched a goal and a fight in his first ever NHL game — with half the town of Belleville, Ontario on hand in Philadelphia to witness their young lad make it to the big time with a bang. Fresh call-up defenseman Dylan Olsen didn’t impact the scoresheet negatively in his debut with the ‘Hawks, getting 3 shots on net in his 9:48 of ice time and ending the night with a flat plus/minus.

Administrative nonsense: Matt Duschene and Peter Mueller are both out of the lineup for Colorado; Steve Montador and Marcus Kruger are still on IR for Chicago, and Daniel Carcillo will officially serve the second game of his 7-game suspension — though only an idiot wouldn’t realize that his knee is torn to shreds and he can’t skate anyhow. Semyon Varlamov is the announced starter for Colorado; Corey Crawford gets the start in goal for the Blackhawks.

7:30pm puck drop at the United Center this evening. Comcast SportsNet has your television coverage; WGN AM-720 will cover the game on broadcast radio; XM customers will find the game on channel 214; and Sirius Premiere subscribers should scroll to channel 213.

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