Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The phrase on Blackhawks fans’ lips these days is, “What the HELL is wrong?!?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong in a minute, and you’re going to be more than a little surprised. But the matter at hand is tonight’s game against the Avalanche.

Looking at this Avalanche team reveals one very salient point: this will NOT be the Colorado Avalanche we see next year. 8 players on their current roster are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and another 7 are restricted free agents. Most of the guys we face off against tonight are up for grabs when the season ends.

Hope Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has some of our scouts with us on this trip.

Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks, this is a team that looks very much like the Edmonton team that beat us like a dorm room carpet: young, fast, and hungry. They are 3 points out of a playoff spot, with nearly everyone on the team in the last year of their contract. Think they are going to be hustling when they hit the ice?

That hustle hasn’t been paying off of late, however. Colorado is mired in a 5-game losing streak, which is surprising considering the decent string of wins they put together at the beginning of the year — including a 4-0 whooping of the Blackhawks’ asses at the United Center on January 6th. That represents one of the most lopsided victories this team has had all season.

Which is a curious thing about this team: nearly every game, win or lose, is decided by one goal. Additionally, don’t let the game go into overtime against the Avs: they have only 3 OTL’s, one more than Detroit or Boston. Colorado is 24th in the league in goals per game, and with about 3 exceptions, EVERYBODY on their roster has a negative plus-minus. It’s a puzzle I can’t quite figure out — what’s their system? Because whatever it is, it ain’t working.

Their goalie tandem really shouldn’t be a tandem from the looks of the stat sheet. Semyon Varlamov has a slight edge in starts, but has a losing record and a 3.00 GAA. J.S. Giguere has a winning record and a GAA of just 2.09, so why is he getting fewer chances in net? Again, hard to figure that one out.

The usual names sit atop the stat sheet: Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and youngster Gabriel Landeskog, though it should be noted that their leading scorer has just 14 tallies on the year. On the blue line, Jan Hejda and Kyle Quincey lead a crew of young defensemen even more anonymous and ineffective than they are. Colorado fans are probably thankful most of these guys will be hitting the road in July.

One name you won’t know will pop up tonight: rookie (as in, fresh off the turnip truck from the Lake Erie Monsters) defenseman Tyson Barrie was a point-a-game player all through Juniors with Kelowna, and was leading the Monsters in scoring at the time he was recalled. He’s a defenseman. And he’s leading the team in scoring. Bloody hell. He’ll be easily recognizable at 5’10″ and 190 lbs, but don’t underestimate this kid. He’s going to be dangerous as he makes his NHL debut tonight.

So it’s the Battle of the Five Game Losing Streaks when the puck drops at the Pepsi Center this evening. Call it the stoppable force against the movable object. I predict it goes to OT, tied either at 0 or 11. More likely the former.

So what the HELL is wrong? I promised I would tell you, so here goes. EVERYTHING is wrong. Well, everything except the penalty kill (currently at 76.4%, not significantly different from our year-to-date average of 76.3% — though both numbers are shitty) and, believe it or not, goaltending. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery’s combined save percentage the last five games is 88%. That’s just 2 percentage points down from their YTD average.

But everything else is DRASTICALLY changed in the last 5 games. Our goals scored per game: 2, down from more than 3. Our goals allowed per game: 4.2, up from 2.87. Power play percentage (please, sit down…) a nausea-inducing 7.7% compared to our YTD average of 18.2%. Shooting percentage sucks wallaby weiner at 6.25%, and the defense is allowing an average of 31 shots against per game.

What the hell is wrong? Fucking everything is wrong. This team is in a spiral the likes of which hasn’t been seen since offensive powerhouses Casey Hankinson and Chris Herperger were allowed in the dressing room. And while Stan Bowman wades his way through the stagnant cesspool that is the current trade market looking for the magic bullet to turn this team into a contender, Head Coach Joel Quenneville continues to juggle forwards in ways that make one’s head hurt.

At practice on Monday, the latest incarnation of Coach QStache’s dart-throwing lineup was: Jonathan Toews (feeling better after a bout with the flu, thank you) centering Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw; Dave Bolland centering the second line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp; Jamal Mayers centering Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell; and Brendan Morrison between Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg. Which of those last two lines is the 3rd and which is the 4th… well, if you figure it out then tell me.

Word is we will not be graced with the tectonic plate that is John Scott this evening, he will join Sami Lepisto in the press box. Lepisto has played a total of 11 games this year, 8 of them before December 1st. Think we’ll see him again this season? Only if somebody gets hurt. Thank goodness he’s cheap.

Administrative nonsense: center Matt Duschene is out for Colorado, and winger Peter Mueller is listed as being sick, but may play this evening. For the Blackhawks, the only injury is Andrew Brunette, who will not play. He is traveling with the team however, and according to Q may see action by this weekend. Giguere will get the start for Colorado, and the Blackhawks goalie controversy begins again, fourth year in a row, as Emery is the announced starter for Chicago.

8:00pm start tonight in Denver, Comcast SportsNet has your TV coverage. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM will air the game on channel 92; and Sirius Premiere customers should tune in on channel 207.

Follow Cheer The Anthem on Twitter @CheerTheAnthem and on Facebook
Download Cheer The Anthem’s Android app for immediate alerts to new posts
If you’re on your iPhone, save to your bookmarks. Works like an app.