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Nashville Predators @ Chicago Blackhawks Game Preview: Fear The Beard?

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The Human Rocket Ship might be cleared for lift-off in the Windy City tonight

2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Practice Sessions & Family Skate Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Tonight, the Nashville Predators’ playoff push heads to the land of pizza, paczkis, and Pierre Pilote.

Try reading that sentence ten times fast.

The Preds and Chicago Blackhawks are still fighting for their playoff futures. More immediately, they’re trying to figure out their strategies for Monday’s trade deadline. Both teams could reasonably fall on either side of the buyer/seller coin, and tonight’s game could help decide how that coin falls.

Fun, right?!?

Tale o’ the Tape

You can check out Jason Paul’s “Versus” tool on WaveIntel.org, and see all the other great work he’s doing in the world of analytics.

Guess Who’s Back... Back Again?

Human Rocket Ship is Back... Tell a Friend.

While the Preds haven’t officially said it, all signs point to Ryan Ellis’s return to the lineup tonight against the Blackhawks. The bearded blue-line beast hasn’t played since the Winter Classic due to a concussion suffered from a Corey Perry headshot. Ellis has been skating with the team for a few weeks, but in the past few days, he returned to his normal spot alongside Roman Josi during practice.

The Preds’ defense has sorely missed Ellis, who was in the midst of perhaps his best two-way season before the injury. There were players, like Yannick Weber and Jarred Tinordi, who stepped into bigger roles as a result and played adequately in his absence. But it’s hard to replicate the impact Ellis has on the team.

It’ll be interesting to watch how the defensive depth chart is impacted by Ellis’s return. The Predators could be in the market for a depth defenseman during Monday’s trade deadline, so this weekend’s games will be a chance for David Poile and John Hynes to debate if they can make a run with the current group, or if they need to bring in some help.

Speaking of the trade deadline... If you’re a Predator who’s been on the “trade block” this season, chances are, you’ve been having a good couple of weeks.

Mikael Granlund, a pending free agent, has arguably been the best Predators forward since Hynes took over the team. His 8 goals since the coaching change are most on the team, and he now routinely leads the Preds’ forwards in ice time during games.

If Granlund’s the President of the “Yay, Peter Laviolette Is Gone” club, Kyle Turris might be Vice President. He’s gone from a fourth line/perennial healthy scratch to a critical piece of Hynes’s offense, and his 11 points (4G, 7A) is most among Predators forwards under Hynes (with Granlund, who also has 11.)

Do-Do-Do... Do-Do-Do... Do-Do-Do-Do-Do-Do-Doomed

It wasn’t that long ago the Blackhawks looked like they might have enough to get back into the postseason for the time in three years.

Now, the Hawks are simply trying to keep the wheels from falling off.

Chicago has won just twice in their past ten games, and have given up four goals or more in half of those. Weirdly enough, the team’s two goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, haven’t been bad this season — in fact, Lehner’s played fairly well, all things considered (his .918 save percentage is 13th among goaltenders who have played at least 10 games).

It’s team defense that’s been the Blackhawks’ Achilles heel. Chicago gives up more shots per game than any other team in the league, and the team’s 2.62 xGA at even strength is worst in the NHL. Long-time stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are each having their worst defensive season since before the team’s first Cup run. The team has some younger talent on the blue-line, like Adam Boqvist and Erik Gustafsson, but neither have been able to help the team in their own zone.

The one thing keeping the Blackhawks in the hunt? They have two of the best players of our generation, and each are playing well. Patrick Kane’s 75 points (27G, 48A) lead the team, and is seventh in the NHL. Jonathan Toews, meanwhile, is having another respectable year with 52 points.

The Hawks may have also found another diamond in the rough with Dominik Kubalik, whose 25 goals leads all rookies this season.

Reasons to Watch

  • Ryan Ellis
  • Human Rocket Ship
  • Ellis, Ryan

Tonight’s Song to Get You HYPEDDD

We’re playing in the house that Jordan built, so it’s only right that we pay homage to the best NBA intro of all time.

How to Watch

Puck Drop: 7:30 PM CST
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee
Radio: 102.5 The Game