After a dismal end to last week, the Nashville Predators will take on the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. Will Nashville go out and right the ship against a weaker team, or will they continue to give us good reason to worry? How will the special teams fare? Can anyone besides Filip Forsberg score goals? Let’s look at all of that and more in today’s preview.
How To Watch/Listen
The game will be aired on Fox Sports Tennessee and broadcast over radio by 102.5 The Game Nashville.
Chicago is a bad team; that much I say with certainty. The Blackhawks suffered plenty of key losses in the offseason and at the trade deadline (Robin Lehner, Corey Crawford, Brandon Saad), but things have only gotten worse as the season’s gotten rolling. Alex Nylander will miss essentially the entire season after getting knee surgery; Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness; Kirby Dach’s wrist looks like a kinked hose and he’ll be out for the season as well.
The Blackhawks are going to be heavily reliant on young players emerging to be mildly competitive in games this year, especially in net. Colin Delia, Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen aren’t exactly confidence-boosters at the goalie position, and their numbers so far back it up. Playing behind a team defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in 5v5 and 4v5 xGA/60 should be good for a Preds offense that needs to get humming, quickly.
The thing any fan should be focused on when facing the Blackhawks remains their shooting talent. Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik and Patrick Kane are all elite finishers who have regularly outperformed their xGF numbers; Kubalik is considerably less proven than the other two, but he’s looked good to start the year despite very little ice time, and his rookie season saw him having high-end offensive impact.
For a Nashville team that’s the worst in the league on the penalty kill (by both underlying numbers and results) that’s something to be concerned with. The Blackhawks have been a borderline top-ten power play this year by expected goals, so Nashville needs to play with considerable discipline, something that they haven’t been doing recently. I think the Predators match up well with this team, as I’ll expand upon in a minute, but there are definitely weapons on this roster that could cost Nashville some wins.
Lastly, a notable youngster to focus on is rookie Pius Suter. Suter managed a hat-trick against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, completing Chicago’s dominant two-game stretch. Suter’s underlying numbers haven’t been great, but it’ll be fun to see if he can continue scoring or if this was just a random blip.
All right, this section is gonna be brief because there isn’t a ton to expand upon. Nashville comes into this game having lost three in a row and two straight in embarrassing fashion. The Predators have struggled on special teams, taken entirely too many penalties, and failed to put up a consistent effort at even strength. The key ailment this team suffers from is obviously a lack of goal scoring, but the team defense and penalty kill have been atrocious lately against teams like the Stars and Hurricanes. The Blackhawks have some dangerous forwards, so they can exploit these issues if they haven’t been corrected or at least improved. Still, I think Nashville should probably win both of these games.
Why is that?
The Predators have visibly more talent than Chicago at every single position, and while they don’t have as much top-end scoring they’re superior on the blue line. Juuse Saros or Pekka Rinne are a wild card in goal but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that they’re better than any member of Chicago’s three-man circus. Nashville should beat this team, plain and simple, because they’re better than them. Whether or not the talent can manage to execute and win the games they should win remains to be seen.
Three Big Things
- I need to see Roman Josi step up and start scoring. The captain has been a bit uneven to start the year after winning the Norris Trophy last season, but we all know that he has the ability to take over a game. Against a Chicago team with weak defensive forwards and a young goaltending carousel he should be feasting. If not, we have a problem.
- Dominik Kubalik is the man to stop. The 25-year-old winger leads the team in xGF/60 at even strength and boasts a fantastic shot and great hands. If Nashville can’t slow him down, I wouldn’t be surprised by a multi-goal game.
- The bottom six has to elevate their play and stop taking penalties. If the Preds continue to give teams a deluge of opportunities to exploit their...questionable penalty kill, they’re going to keep losing games. The third and fourth lines have been quiet lately, and when I’ve noticed them it’s because someone’s been in the penalty box. Fix that and the team gets exponentially better.
It’s DJ Kool o’clock everyone. Happy gameday. Go Preds.