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Nashville Predators @ Chicago Blackhawks Preview: Central Blitz Begins

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The Predators begin a five game stretch of Central Division matchups tonight in Chicago. The Preds got the 1C they wanted. Now how about some wins?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

You remember back in high school when you found out you had a substitute teacher for one of your classes? But then the sub still made you do your work for the day? And the initial relief and excitement that exploded in your heart from knowing that your real teacher was absent instantly deflated as you realized that you still had to sit through an hour of frustrating boredom and sadness? That everything still kind of sucks?

That's what the last two games have felt like. There may be a new face at the front of the classroom, but we still have to muck through a mire of awful hockey until we can have some fun again.

And hey, look, a stretch of super awesome divisional games, including tonight's against...

The Chicago Blackhawks

After a modest start, the Blackhawks look like one of the best teams in the Central. Only 4 points behind the Stars in the standings, the Blackhawks are putting up 2.84 goals per game, good for 6th in the league. They are of course paced by Patrick Kane, who now has 25 goals and 37 assists. Gotta be the leading Hart candidate. Jonathan Toews and Russian defect Artemi Panarin follow up Kane with 16 and 15 goals respectively. The Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line is pretty deadly, but then again so is the Toews-Hossa line, whether it's with Tuevo Teravainen (20 points) or Andrew Shaw (18 points). The bottom 6 bottom don't scare you too much, but they don't need to. The top two forward lines have accounted for 87 of their 125 goals scored. For reference, the Predators have scored 105 goals total so far.

Let me say that again. The Blackhawks top 6 forwards have scored 87 goals. The Predators have scored 105.

&#$%@

Defensively, the Blackhawks rank 7th in the league in total defense, allowing only 2.36 goals per game. Corey Crawford is playing sensational right now with a career-high .926 save %. He already has a career-high in shutouts in a season with 6. He's almost single-handedly the reason for the Blackhawks' defensive prowess. The Hawks are only an average team defensively when you look at shots-allowed. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson anchor the blue-line, but beyond that there are definitely holes to exploit. Their SA/60 is 28.9, which is 17th in the league.

So if the Predators want to score on the Blackhawks (and given the Hawks scoring prowess, they sure as hell better), it will have to be more of the same: shots, shots, and more shots.

The Nashville Predators

The Preds finally got their shiny new toy and have a two-game losing streak to show for it. Ryan Johansen scored in his debut and basically looks as advertised, but the other problems are starting to pile up. Lack up secondary scoring (particularly from the wingers), a terrible penalty-kill, too many penalties, sub-par goaltending, and defensive breakdowns at inopportune moments.

The penalty-kill has reached a new low... 75.4%. Next to last in the league. 30 of the Preds 114 goals-allowed have come on the penalty-kill. If the Predators were even just an average penalty-killing team, like the Rangers, Stars, or Red Wings, they'd probably only have given up between 23-24 goals while short-handed. And while that might not sound like a lot, a few goals here and there could be the difference between points in the standings and frustrating losses (like the last two games). Plus, any amount of time spent in the box is also time that you can't spend generating offense... and with the weapons the Preds have (especially now), that's extra punishment. Something has to change. It's not just an annoyance or an obstacle or something to laugh about... it's a real problem.

David Poile seems in the mood to fix things as of late. Eh, DP? What say you?

Things I Hope To Hear Tonight

  • "Patrick Kane just can't get anything going tonight... it looks as if he has been held captive by Roman Josi's golden eyes."
  • "James Neal with a HUGE right hook that really flattened Andrew Shaw.
  • "Interesting penalty-kill strategy Stu, all of the Predators are just laying down on the ice making snow-angels with their sticks. Let's see if it makes any bit of difference whatsoever in their ability to stop a power-play goal."
  • "Ryan Johansen beats Corey Crawford stick side! 6-0 Preds!... And the Blackhawks are gonna have to make a change in goal."

Pre-Game Music

This is the first David Bowie tune I ever heard and it changed the way I listened to music. I loved it then and I love it now. I enjoy both the original folksy, less glam-rocky '69 version and the re-released '73 Ziggy Stardust influenced version, so I posted both.

Indeed, the stars look very different today.

The Important Details

7:30 puck drop at the United Center. FS-TN and 102.5 have your coverage.