Fresh off their victory last night in Minnesota, the Nashville Predators (4-6-1) return to home ice for the first time in two weeks, coincidentally against the last team they played at home, the Chicago Blackhawks (7-3-1). Tonight marks the third meeting between these Central Division rivals this season, with the Hawks winning in Nashville 3-1 and in Chicago 2-0.
Remember, if you want to get discounted tickets to tonight's game (or any Predators home game) you can order them using this link along with the offer code "PREDS" for bargain seats. Tonight is College Night (half-price beer & soda through 1st intermission), and also features a number of events related to the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, so it's a good night to come down to the rink.
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
The Blackhawks are dinged up right now, with their captain Jonathan Toews still out with a concussion. Defenseman Brent Seabrook might return to action soon (update: he's in), but for more on the Hawks check out Second City Hockey.
Chicago comes in after two straight wins at home, over Nashville on Saturday and Minnesota on Monday. After tonight's game, they head right back home for a date with the Canadiens tomorrow night. The Blackhawks lines (per FantasyHockey911) may look as follows:
Byfuglien - Madden - Kane
Brouwer - Ebbett - Sharp
Ladd - Bolland - Versteeg
Dowell - Fraser - Kopecky
Keith - Sopel
Campbell - Hjalmarsson
Barker - Hendry
Meet the Good Guys
After a four-game losing streak that included blowout losses to Dallas and Edmonton, the Preds headed out for a two-week, 5-game road trip and managed to play .500 hockey, going 2-2-1. Despite some different looks in practice, the lines last night actually turned out like so:
Even Strength Play
|TEAM||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
Since the last time we looked at this comparison, the gap in 5-on-5 performance has actually gotten wider; Chicago's goaltending is starting to settle down, and they weathered the loss of Toews rather well. For the Predators, one encouraging sign is that at least in the last couple games, the forwards seem to be simplifying their game and driving hard to the net more often, and have combined for 10 goals over their last 3 games. The other is that secondary names are starting to pop on the scoresheet, like Joel Ward, Mike Santorelli, Jerred Smithson, etc. Nashville needs wide-spread contributions if they're going to score enough to climb the standings.
Chicago PP vs. Nashville PK
The Blackhawks hold the advantage here (17th-ranked PP vs. Nashville's 27th-ranked PK), and the main challenge for Nashville will be to better protect the goal crease; both Chicago goals in their most recent match came due to forwards left alone in front of the net, free to gather in and convert rebound chances.
Nashville PP vs. Chicago PK
Thanks to a quick Shea Weber score last night, the Preds have finally crept into double-digit figures on the power play, converting at a 10.3% clip that is still worst in the NHL. We're still a long ways from climbing out of that hole.
Is Cristobal Huet gaining confidence? After shutting out the Preds on Saturday he gave up just one goal to the Wild on Monday...
|2009 - Cristobal Huet||8||434||4||2||18||2.49||157||139||.885||1|
After getting mixed signals all day yesterday over the Preds' starting netminder, it's probably best not to guess ahead of time who will go tonight. Dan Ellis got pulled last night after giving up three goals on consecutive shots, while Pekka Rinne stopped all 12 shots in relief. It doesn't look like we'll have a true #1 goaltender anytime soon, as short-term performance appears to determine who gets to play each night.
|2009 - Dan Ellis||8||376||2||3||19||3.03||184||165||.897||0|
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||6||291||2||3||16||3.30||148||132||.892||0|
Chicago is clearly the superior team coming into this game, but a continued focus on putting pucks on net and charging hard for rebounds can produce results for the Preds. Playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in two weeks should also provide a boost.