In the second game of the 2010-11 season, the Nashville Predators return to the scene where it all went wrong. While some would say that the team should not dwell on the past, I heartily disagree. We all know what happened, but I feel that it bears re-emphasizing. The Predators were about to put the Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes and return to Nashville with a 3-2 series lead and a high probability of winning their first playoff series in franchise history. A few egregious mental mistakes and a horrific power play later, Nashville fell in overtime and went on to lose the series in 6 games.
This season, as a whole, represents a changing of the guard. Nashville must use the disappointment as motivation to succeed. There's a new leadership group in place, they're angry, and they need to stay that way. The Anaheim Ducks were a marginal test, but the real road to redemption begins tonight in Chicago.
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Nashville put on a clinic against Anaheim on Saturday. 49 shots, a power play goal, and a perfect penalty kill later, they came away with a 4-1 victory. It was undoubtedly an encouraging sign, however - the team has struggled with consistency throughout their existence, and this is the year they must change those nasty habits.
Tonight against Chicago, the Predators will need to maximize their depth advantage over the Blackhawks. The absence of both Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell presents a great opportunity for one of Nashville's scoring lines. They're left with only two good defensemen (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook), so one of the lower pairs will be tasked with handling the likes of Patric Hornqvist and Matthew Lombardi. It's up to the Predators to exploit this clear mismatch.
Due to Pekka Rinne's lower body injury, David Poile and Barry Trotz have placed their trust in the rookie netminder from Sweden. Nashville's defense is typically sound, but an extra effort will be in order to protect an inexperienced goalie. Mark Dekanich has been recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals to sit on the bench.
|2010 - Anders Lindback||1||17:22||0||0||0||0.00||7||7||1.000||0|
These aren't reflective of anything in particular, I've just compensated for the temporary loss of Martin Erat by moving up the next players on the depth chart. Besides Erat and Rinne, Sergei Kostitsyn and Jamie Lundmark remain on injured reserve.
Blackhawk fans, executives, and players would have you believe that the current incarnation of their team is ready to defend their Stanley Cup title. While the Blackhawks are probably still the team to beat in the Central Division, they're not, as currently constructed, a legitimate contender. Among the players lost to salary cap purging were Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Antti Niemi, Ben Eager, and Adam Burish. To replace them, Stan Bowman brought in the aging Marty Turco, Maple Leaf reject Viktor Stalberg, Oilers reject Fernando Pisani, and a combo platter of AHL players.
Even if the replacements were equal to or greater than those replaced (which they're not), player turnover of that quantity is never a positive thing when it comes to cohesion. Chicago needs a host of underachievers to pick up their game in order for a return to the Finals.
UPDATE (11:10 AM CST): Via ESPN Chicago, rookie netminder Corey Crawford gets the call tonight instead of Marty Turco.
The Chicago Blackhawks spread their elite scoring across two lines, with Toews and Hossa on the 1st unit and Kane and Sharp on the 2nd. I expect Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein to draw the top line, while Weber and Suter defend the Hawks' 2nd line. If this is the case, then Ryan Suter will be tasked with marking one of the league's shiftiest players in Patrick Kane. While its true that Shea Weber did steal Patty's lunch money several times last year, Suter's style is better suited for neutralizing the high-scoring forward.
WARNING: The following video is not for the faint of heart:
This is probably obvious, but I much prefer the Predators' chances when Rinne is in net. Nashville can certainly skate with Chicago, but Lindback has a grand total of 17 minutes NHL experience, which was a) at home, and b) against the lowly Ducks. The defending Cup champs inside one of the most intimidating venues in the sport will be an entirely different experience. That said, the Hawks are in a tight spot defensively and Nashville's defense may be just good enough to protect Lindback. Predators 3, Hawks 2.