Negating the visiting fanbase
Not often does Chicago come to town and not bring a drove of Blackhawks fans in tow.
That's not a problem, either, because the city of Nashville thoroughly enjoys the tourism dollars spent by any visiting fanbase visiting -- it's just the name of the game. When Chicago visits though, it's a bit different. Blackhawks fans are rowdy, constantly a vocal factor and doing a fairly decent job of nullifying any home-ice advantage the Predators enjoy at Bridgestone Arena.
In my years of covering the team since the renaissance of the current Blackhawks era, I've never seen a quieter arena during the first period of play between these two teams.
Even more shocking was how Predators fans drowned out any attempts of clapping during the anthem from Blackhawks fans.
Regardless, it lead to an unnervingly quiet first period -- one that seemed like fans were holding their breath in waiting for something to happen. Playoff-esque? Maybe. Both teams certainly felt each other out as if it were that type of game, even with Nashville well below Chicago in the standings.
If we're lucky enough, maybe these two teams will face off in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. That's always fun, right?
It may be time for Pekka Rinne to take a seat
Boy, I never thought I'd write that sentence. Surely, neither did any of you readers, either.
Unfortunately, Rinne hasn't been at his best this season. His goaltending statistics sit near the bottom of the league -- posting a 0.902 save percentage, 2.58 goals against average and a 16-15-7 record on 38 starts.
Lately, in his last handful of starts, it's been more than obvious that there is something inherently wrong with Rinne's play, whether physical or mental.
The goals that Rinne has allowed haven't been the impossible-to-stop rebounds or double-team screenings, either. They've been normal, run-of-the-mill goals you'd expect any netminder to stop on any given night nine out of ten times.
Take for instance the overtime marker Rinne allowed against Winnipeg less than one week ago. Blake Wheeler broke into the offensive zone as Mattias Ekholm tried to cover the angle of the shot, yet Wheeler wristed one high to Rinne's blocker side and into the net. Game over.
Fast forward to Tuesday night's game against Chicago. Same circumstances, even-strength play and substitute Wheeler for Richard Panik.
The exact same goal was allowed by Rinne, one you would figure he would stop nine out of ten times. Yet, he's allowed that same goal twice in a row now.
Rinne ended up allowing three goals on 26 shots in the 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks. Whether you want to hear it or not and regardless of how much the team has invested in him -- which, to remind you, is $7 million a year -- it's may be time to let Carter Hutton play a string of games.
Some nights, it's not all Rinne's fault either. I would venture to guess that defensive lapses have resulted in a fair majority of the high danger scoring chances in front of him, but the onus is on Rinne to make those stops when the team needs it most.
Nashville needs wins right now and Rinne just isn't giving them the chance to earn them nightly.
Predators still can't figure it out
A lot of fingers can be pointed when it comes to Tuesday's loss to the Blackhawks. Whether the poison of your choosing is Chicago's franchise-record 12-game winning streak, Rinne inexplicably letting in one or two freebies a game, the entire team's inability to find any type of consistent scoring efforts or any other reason you can come up with.
The result is still the same, though: another night, another loss for Nashville -- a team that hasn't strung two wins together since December 19th and 21st.
The more of these they pile up now, the harder it's going to be to climb out of the hole they're in over the next two and a half months.
One could easily argue that at least the Predators are doing this now instead of falling apart like they did at the end of last season, however this feels a bit different.
Actually, no it doesn't, it feels eerily similar. Like Nashville found a short reprieve to begin the season, but ended up right back where they were at the end of last year: unable to find the timely goals and keep the same ones out of their net.
It's unfortunate to look at it that way, but sometimes that's the nature of this sport. The Predators are one of the best teams in the NHL at putting shots on opposing netminders, however they haven't been able to put themselves in a position to take, and subsequently hold, a lead in the first two periods of quite a few of their games as of late.
There are aberrations to that: Nashville had 1-0 leads against both Winnipeg and Colorado to see both of those quickly evaporate.
Can the Predators get back into a playoff position and stay there? Sure, there's plenty of time left this season. Do they look like a playoff-caliber team right now? Not even close.
That's the big problem.
They should be a playoff-caliber team and there should be zero question about that, but here we are. It's nearly the end of January and Nashville has lost nine of its last 12.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks -- Kane just does it all. He's tied his career record for goals in a season only 49 games into the year. That's just absurd. Plus, he has no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks -- Crawford was absolutely snubbed on an All Star bid. I understand why the league gave it to Rinne, but man has Crawford had a fantastic year.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks -- Two assists on the night for Panarin. It doesn't feel like he should be as good as he is, but he's definitely the real deal.