Nashville Predators @ Chicago Blackhawks preview: Skating uphill

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Shea Webber #6 of the Nashville Predators hits Brent Seabrook #7 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 31, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The battle for the fourth through sixth positions in the Western Conference is wide open, and one of the key games in that chase takes place tonight as the Nashville Predators take on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center (6:30 p.m. Central on NBC Sports - not FS-TN). Considering the Preds' home-ice win last night against Winnipeg, one of the biggest challenges facing the Preds here will be to find the energy to keep with an up-tempo Blackhawks squad.

Follow after the jump as we set this one up...

Need new gear for the playoffs? Here are some great places to buy a Preds jersey online.

Tale Of The Tape

Nashville (42-24-8) at Chicago (42-25-8)
NSH Offense vs. CHI Defense CHI Offense vs. NSH Defense
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH Offense 2.4 (11th) 27.1 (25th) 8.8 (6th) 2.4 (11th) 30.6 (25th) 922 (11th) NSH Defense
CHI Defense 2.5 (23rd) 28.1 (8th) 909 (26th) 2.8 (4th) 31.1 (7th) 9.0 (3rd) CHI Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH 5-on-4 7.6 (1st) 46.4 (21st) 16.4 (1st) 6.5 (20th) 53.3 (24th) 878 (16th) NSH 4-on-5
CHI 4-on-5 7.2 (27th) 56.3 (30th) 872 (18th) 5.0 (25th) 48 (14th) 10.5 (27th) CHI 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

That Chicago penalty kill is ripe for the picking, so here's to hoping that the Preds can put in the disciplined work to create power play opportunities.

Chicago Blackhawks

Despite missing their captain Jonathan Toews due to a concussion suffered a month ago, the Blackhawks have gone 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. This brought them to within two points of the Preds, and three points of Detroit, with seven games remaining for all of those teams.

Another key player the Hawks will miss tonight? Defenseman Duncan Keith, who received a 5-game suspension for throwing an elbow at the head of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin. At least the guys at Second City Hockey aren't making excuses:

At the end, we can bitch all we want about the Canucks once again crying foul or what appears to be inconsistent justice. But the real conclusion to be drawn from this is that Duncan Keith let his team down. There's no way around that. At this time of year, your most important defenseman and alternate captain simply cannot put himself in this type of jeopardy.

The big guy to watch out for is still out there, however. In four games against the Preds this season, Hoss has 3 goals and 4 assists.

Marian Hossa

#81 / Right Wing / Chicago Blackhawks



Jan 12, 1979

2011 - Marian Hossa 74 29 45 74 +22 16 9 2 4 227 12.8

The Blackhawks have been lying in wait for several days, with their last game coming Wednesday vs. Vancouver. That stands in stark opposition to the Preds, who of course beat Winnipeg last night in Nashville.

Chicago Blackhawks Last 5 Games

Vancouver Wed 03/21 OT - W 2 - 1
@ Columbus Tue 03/20 W 5 - 1
Washington Sun 03/18 W 5 - 2
@ Dallas Fri 03/16 W 4 - 1
St. Louis Tue 03/13 SO - W 4 - 3

Nashville Predators

One of the welcome bits to come out of last night's game was the return of Paul Gaustad to the lineup. He can take on the specific defensive responsibilities that free up the guys like Radulov to focus on offensive concerns.

So far this season, the Preds are 3-0-1 against the Blackhawks, and will want to maintain that advantage, especially given the possibility that Nashville/Chicago could turn out to be the 4-vs.-5 matchup in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs (revenge for 2010, anyone?).

The man of the hour these days is Martin Erat, whose assist last Tuesday vs. Edmonton has him at 57 points, tied for his career best with seven games remaining. For years David Poile has been talking about 60-70 point potential for Marty, and it finally looks like that's going to be realized:

Martin Erat

#10 / Left Wing / Nashville Predators



Aug 29, 1981

2011 - Martin Erat 67 18 39 57 +12 26 4 1 3 102 17.6

The big question, as has become usual over the last couple weeks, is who will watch from the pressbox. Given the back-to-back situation, I wouldnt' be surprised to see some of the guys who were scratched last night (like Jordin Tootoo or Craig Smith) get back in to help alleviate the tired legs the Preds may be suffering from.

Come back later for the game thread, and remember, tonight's game is on NBC Sports (formerly Versus), not FS-TN!

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