BLACKHAWKS (8-5-1) at AVALANCHE (11-3-2)
Last 10 -- Chicago 6-4-0; Colorado 7-2-1
Season series -- Chicago currently leads the season series 1-0 after edging Colorado, 4-3, in a shootout at the United Center on Oct. 10.
Big story -- The Blackhawks are looking to wrap up a quick two-game road swing on an up note, while Colorado is trying to maintain its perch atop the West and get a win from the suddenly human netminder Craig Anderson.
Blackhawks -- Back-to-back games aren't a scheduling quirk most teams enjoy, but Friday's visit to Colorado likely can't come soon enough for Chicago. After winning three of their previous four games, mostly on the back of a strong stretch by netminder Cristobal Huet, the Hawks took a frustrating loss in Phoenix on Thursday night. Despite outshooting the Coyotes and developing a number of strong scoring chances, the Hawks were unable to get much past Ilya Bryzgalov, who kept Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell at bay despite a combined 11 shots on goal.
The Hawks' offense continues to miss Jonathan Toews, who practiced Thursday, but still sat out the loss. With Chicago continuing to struggle on offense, Huet was unable to bail the team out, as he gave up more than two goals for the first time in five games. The Hawks also saw Columbus leap ahead in the Central Division standings, so getting their offense running more consistently might make them feel a little more at ease.
Avalanche -- After jumping out to a stunning lead atop the Western Conference, Colorado's offense started to sputter recently, scoring a total of one goal in back-to-back losses to San Jose and Vancouver. But the Avs tempered any concerns Wednesday by getting back on the winning side of the ledger against Phoenix with a 4-1 win. While the game was far closer than the final score might indicate, Colorado's offense got encouraging signs as Milan Hejduk broke a three-game drought with a three-point night, and Marek Svatos lit the lamp after going nine games without a point.
The win was also notable as it happened on Anderson's first night off of the season. Anderson has been a revelation between the pipes this year, placing among the leaders in wins, save percentage and goals against average. But in his first year as a No. 1 goalie, Anderson may have been in need of a night off -- the Illinois native has lost his last two games.
Who's hot -- Colorado's Paul Stastny has been collecting points in bunches. The center has gotten on the scoresheet in five of the past seven games, including three-point performances against Phoenix and Carolina. With his score Thursday, Chicago's Kris Versteeg has scored in two straight games.
Injury report -- Toews practiced Thursday, but sat out the Hawks' loss in Phoenix with lingering concussion-like symptoms. He is questionable for Friday against the Avs. Colorado is still missing Ruslan Salei and Darcy Tucker, while T.J. Galiardi recently injured his ankle and will be out 3-5 more weeks.
Stat pack -- Anderson has wowed in his first month as a starting goaltender, but his 15 starts this season are already nearly halfway to his career high of 31, which he set a season ago while flirting with the starting job in Florida behind an ineffective Tomas Vokoun. At his current pace, Anderson would make 76 starts this season.
Puck drop -- With their recent inconsistent play, a victory over the top team in the West would be a nice boost for the Hawks as they start a four-game homestand Monday. But winning in the Pepsi Center won't be easy for Chicago. Not only will Colorado have a rested Anderson ready to go, but the Avs are the only team in the League not to have lost at home this season.