Due to time constraints today I'm combining the Game Day Preview and the Game Thread, so we'll use this post for in-game commentary tonight. After the jump, let's take a look at this battle atop the Central Division between Nashville (15-10-2) and Chicago (17-6-3).
Meet the Enemy
The Blackhawks have been the class of the Western Conference so far, and that was even before Marian Hossa returned from shoulder surgery a few days ago. They can score, play defense, and are getting decent goaltending. Expectations are incredibly high these days, and for good reason.
Besides locking up three of their young stars with long term contracts yesterday, Chicago is also eagerly anticipating a game with Pittsburgh tomorrow. For the fans, at least, tonight's game is merely prelude, then. If you happen to be reading this from Chicago and will attend the game, be sure to pick up The Committed Indian on the way in, as the guys asked me to contribute to tonight's edition.
The lines for Chicago should look like so:
Meet the Good Guys
I won't even try projecting lines tonight for Nashville, as after consecutive defeats including five goals against, Barry Trotz has said that a major shuffle is in the works. We do know that Mike Santorelli has been sent down to Milwaukee and Dave Scatchard is injured, so Cal O'Reilly and Ryan Jones have been called up and will see action. Cal's put up more than a point-per-game in the AHL, and if he could do half of that with Nashville for a short while that would provide a nice boost.
John Glennon does say that the 4th line will be made up of Jones, O'Reilly, and Patric Hornqvist. Instead of using the excuse of minimal ice time, they'll need to make an immediate impact when they get out there.
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 data from Behind the Net|
|TEAM||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
Perhaps the simplest expression of Chicago's talent level is that shot differential - they fire almost 50% more shots than they give up, and are middle-of-the-pack in terms of both shooting percentage and save percentage. In other words, the skaters do a fine job of tilting the ice on a shift-by-shift basis.
Chicago PP vs. Nashville PK
With the #8 PP in the league (22.3%), the Preds won't want to give Chicago too many opportunities with the man advantage. Surprisingly, for a team of their skill level the Hawks don't really draw many calls (4th-fewest PP's in the NHL). Nashville's PK has dipped back below the 80% mark (79.3%, 19th) and needs to get back on form.
Nashville PP vs. Chicago PK
Are you getting that sinking feeling when the Preds go on the power play again? After a good stretch during the home stand, Nashville's PP has gone cold. Is this, perhaps, where Jones and O'Reilly might get their shot?
Christobal Huet got off to a rockey start but has played well for Chicago recently, and is supposed to start this evening:
#39 / Goalie / Chicago Blackhawks
Sep 03, 1975
|2009 - Cristobal Huet||21||1223||13||5||44||2.16||486||442||.909||1|
Dan Ellis gets a chance to play tonight; in his last outing, he helped the Preds to a 4-1 victory over Florida:
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Jun 19, 1980
|2009 - Dan Ellis||11||556||4||4||25||2.70||265||240||.906||0|
Between the big contract signings yesterday and tomorrow's game against Pittsburgh, might the Blackhawks be guilty of not focusing as much as they should on tonight's tilt? The Predators have a successful history of ruining big parties in Chicago before - just recall the red-carpet opening night that Chicago had in October of 2008, when the Preds pulled out a shootout victory.