The Nashville Predators are rolling. They are the winners of three in a row, Carter Hutton is getting some well-deserved recognition, and they most recently dispatched the San Jose Sharks, one of the hottest squads in the NHL.
Tonight their mettle will be tested against the league's best team, the Chicago Blackhawks. The last meeting between the two Central rivals was oodles of fun for anyone wearing gold, and memorable for so many reasons. Not only was it Marek Mazanec's first NHL win, and the highest goal output of the season to date, and a convincing win against an elite opponent to snap a hideous four-game losing streak, [gasps for air] but it was also a win against the Hawks.
Even though 18 points separates the teams in the standings, and comparing the rosters and stats on paper is a no-contest favoring Chicago, the Predators' strong play of late makes this a game that isn't necessarily over before the puck drops.
|Chicago Blackhawks||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||32.7||4th||29.5||14th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||25.3||2nd||28.1||12th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.922||16th||.921||18th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.36||15th||3.03||26th|
|# of PK's/Gm||2.97||3rd||3.24||12th|
The Chicago Blackhawks
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a team loses their number one goaltender to injury and becomes buoyed by a young, inexperienced goaltender. The Blackhawks find themselves in a comparable position to the Preds in that both Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin are on the injured list right now. Enter 24-year-old Finn Antti Raanta, who has only played nine games in the NHL (all since November 19) and yet won six of them.
|2013 - Antti Raanta||9||497||6||1||1||20||2.41||235||215||.915||0|
Of course, there is a key difference in these scenarios. The way the goals are coming, Chicago could put a Lay-Z-Boy recliner between the pipes and still have a chance to win. They have scored 131 goals this season, best in the league, and are lighting the lamp an average of 3.64 times a game. Their +34 differential better than everyone except St. Louis. They have the firepower that Nashville just doesn't, making the rise of Raanta less of a story than what Nashville is going through (not to take anything away from the kid). He followed up getting beat down in Toronto with a solid 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Nashville Predators
Hutton didn't start the last game against his old club because Trotz didn't want his former teammates to exploit their familiarity with him. Whether or not that holds true tonight is anyone's guess, but it would be fitting after his 3rd Star of the Week award. I have been one of Carter's biggest critics this season, but as long as both goalies are playing well I see no reason not to play the hot hand. I'm sure Maz will get to return to the pipes soon enough.
Speaking of former Chicagoans, with his goal on Saturday Viktor Stalberg now has four points in his last five games. The winger is utilizing his speed (as evidenced by that third period goal against the Sharks) and is generally starting to look more noticeable on the ice.
|2013 - Viktor Stalberg||27||4||6||10||-6||14||0||0||1||56||7.1|
The good people at Fox Sports Tennessee have the broadcast for you at 7 p.m. CST this evening. Remember, screaming at your television definitely improves the performance of the team on the ice. So do it continuously and become your neighbors' favorite person.
- Nashville Predators News: Carter Hutton Named NHL's 3rd Star of the Week
- Monday's Dump & Chase: Preds prospect Brendan Leipsic facing possible suspension
- Nashville Predators Schedule 2013: Blackhawks, Lightning & Canadiens Await in the Week Ahead
- Sunday's Dump & Chase: The Roller Coaster Ride Continues
- Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 2: Preds Win 3rd in a Row