Jonathan Toews' return has lifted the Chicago Blackhawks' production and confidence. Ryan Smyth's first game back didn't have a similar effect on the Colorado Avalanche, and it may be a while longer before he gets some help.
The Avalanche looks to stop Toews and a red-hot Blackhawks offense when the teams continue their season series Sunday.
Toews, one of the league's top rookies, will be playing his fourth straight game since missing 16 with a sprained knee. Chicago (26-25-6) has outscored its last two opponents 13-3 en route to wins in both contests, and Toews has two goals and four points in that span.
Smyth, meanwhile, returned Thursday night after missing 18 games with a fractured ankle, but Colorado (30-23-5) lost 4-1 to St. Louis. He had five shots on goal and drew a 2-minute penalty for roughing, but the Avalanche went 0-for-4 on the power play, just as the team did in a 2-1 loss to Anaheim two days earlier.
"He can help us in a lot of different areas," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said, adding that Smyth's power-play ability, experience and leadership also are key for the team. "He gives us a presence in the tough areas."
Smyth was hurt during a 4-3 overtime loss to Phoenix on Dec. 31, and was third-best on the team at that time with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists). The veteran winger, though, could certainly use some help.
The Avalanche is still without center Joe Sakic (hernia surgery) and leading scorer Paul Stastny (appendix, groin). Sakic and Stastny skated after practice Saturday, but their status remains uncertain.
Sakic has missed 35 straight games, and Stastny has been sidelined the last 12. Stastny, who has 17 goals and a team-high 49 points, had his appendix removed on Jan. 17 and then aggravated his groin. The second-year winger was forced to miss the All-Star game.
With Colorado thin at forward, it needs goalie Jose Theodore to bounce back from a poor effort against the Blues. He stopped only four shots in seven chances Thursday before getting pulled for Peter Budaj, but is 1-1-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average in three games versus the Blackhawks this season.
He will be back in net Sunday.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep those games tight," Theodore said. "Obviously, as a goalie, you don't want to let three goals in quickly. My job is to make sure you give your team a chance to win."
But Theodore will be facing a Chicago team that is enjoying its best two-game run on offense this season.
Toews scored two goals and assisted on another, while Duncan Keith, Rene Bourque, Cam Barker and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks in a 6-1 win over Nashville on Thursday night.
Chicago started out quickly for the second game in a row, scoring three goals in the first period Thursday after finding the back of the net four times in the first period in a 7-2 win over Columbus on Wednesday night.
The Blackhawks are 16-1-1 when scoring more than four goals in a game.
"For our team, I don't know if it's because we are young or what, but that first goal seems to give us a lot of confidence," Keith said. "It gives us a big boost."
Thursday's contest was the end of a 3-2-2 road trip for Chicago. The Blackhawks have lost four of their last five at the United Center.