This evening the Predators (3-5-1) keep their long road trip rolling as they face off against the Central Division-leading Blackhawks (5-3-1) in Chicago. The Hawks come into this game having lost their last two, while the Preds ended a six-game losing streak by defeating Ottawa 6-5 in overtime Thursday night.
In their first meeting this season, the Blackhawks took a 3-1 decision in Nashville. It was in that game that Martin Erat scored his lone goal of the season; dare we hope for a return of Halley's Comet?
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
From our rivals at Second City Hockey, we get the following scouting report:
After a brilliant start, the Hawks have hit a small bump. Two straight losses to Dallas and Vancouver, where they were outplayed for long stretches in both. As you may have heard, goaltending has been an issue, as has some spotty defensive play. Injuries have also crept up, with both Toews and Seabrook joining Hossa, Burish, and Eager on the sideline. That said, the Hawks are still 3rd in shots for and leading in shots-against, as well as the top-10 in both goals for and against. Versteeg and Kane have been on fire all year, and when the Hawks put 60 minutes together, they can maul just about anyone in the league.
Chicago's lines are likely to look as follows, although we don't know how injuries to Toews and Seabrook will affect the lineup (update: it's confirmed that they're both out). Toews got rocked by a huge hit earlier this week.
Meet the Good Guys
The coaches should have plenty of material to work with coming out of the win in Ottawa on Thursday; firing the puck on net and banging away for the rebound paid dividends, while on the negative side, defensive breakdowns in the third resulted in setting an all-time record for the most goals against in one period in Predators history.
The lines are likely to be:
Keep an eye on the Wilson line, as it was excellent in Ottawa; might Dave Scatchard become Joel Ward II?
Even Strength Play
|TEAM||GP||TOI||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
5-on-5 team level data from Behind the Net
There's no question that in 5-on-5 play, the Blackhawks are tearing it up; they're outshooting opponents nearly 2-to-1, but horrid goaltending is holding them back. That .869 save percentage is worst in the NHL in 5-on-5 action. For a bit of perspective, Nashville's .911 is 16th in the league in that regard.
Chicago PP vs. Nashville PK
Surprisingly, given their high-profile talent, the Blackhawks power play has been middle-of-the-pack so far. Nashville's penalty killing has struggled, but appears to be stabilizing of late. The loss of Toews and Seabrook might also slow the Chicago unit down somewhat.
Nashville PP vs. Chicago PK
Yes, the Preds power play struck twice against the Senators, but they still rank dead-last in the NHL by a wide margin. We'll need to see a good run over the course of several games before we move this patient out of intensive care.
Special teams isn't as likely to play a major role tonight, as both teams are among the least-penalized in the league. Of course, this is a divisional matchup, so tempers just might flare up.
Word is that Cristobal Huet will start in goal for Chicago, which is undoubtedly good news for Nashville; it's the one area of the game that we can give the Preds a healthy advantage:
|2009 - Cristobal Huet||6||314||2||2||17||3.25||109||92||.844||0|
For Nashville, Dan Ellis is your starter; Rinne was not strong at all against the Senators when the team needed him most.
|2009 - Dan Ellis||6||295||2||2||14||2.85||140||126||.900||0|
The Predators need to leverage the simple plan that led to success in Ottawa; drive the puck to the the net as often as possible, and charge in aggressively for rebound opportunities. Given Huet's struggles in net, the odd long shot might go in as well, which could turn the home crowd against him quickly.