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Predators vs Blackhawks 1/27/21 Preview: Back-to-B(l)ack(hawks)

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I’m just gonna put on this raincoat for when you hurl tomatoes at me for that title.

NHL: JAN 26 Blackhawks at Predators Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hello there everybody, Eamon here; hope y’all are getting used to that. Welcome back to yet another Preds vs Blackhawks preview (wait, didn’t we just do this yesterday?) featuring the infallible thoughts and opinions of yours truly. What should we expect in this game? Who will play well and who will stink? What are the winning lottery numbers for the Powerball? I can answer all of this and more if you read on.

(Warning: On The Forecheck cannot ensure that all predictions will come true; while Eamon is a gifted seer, annoying things like “luck” and “the human spirit” occasionally obscure his vision. Also, we do not have the lottery numbers.)

How To Watch/Listen

The game starts at 6:30 Central and will be aired on Fox Sports Tennessee and over radio via 102.5 The Game Nashville. To those who haven’t been able to get television coverage because of the YouTube TV and Hulu TV issues, I’d highly recommend streaming the radio call (again on 102.5) from Pete Weber if you’re not already doing so; there’s something kinda magical about listening to a game which has been lost on some of us due to television being so omnipresent, and Pete’s incredible work only adds to that feeling. Give it a try.

The Predators

Nashville comes into this game having crushed the Blackhawks at 5v5 for most of last night’s contest; the Predators struggled mightily in the second period at even strength and still managed around 60% of the shot attempts and xG in the game. The issues on the penalty kill and power play remain glaring, with Nashville giving up a power play goal in four straight games. The Preds sit at 31st and 29th in the league in xGA/60 and CA/60 when on the penalty kill, only joined in the bottom five in both by the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers. For a team with defenders like Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, that remains an unacceptable result.

The players to follow in this game are largely the same as the ones I mentioned in yesterday’s preview, but I have one tweak: the clear focal point for any fan in this game should be Mikael Granlund. The Finn had one of the best games I’ve ever seen by an individual forward wearing a Nashville uniform, posting ridiculous underlying numbers and scoring the game-tying goal. If he continues to play like his hair is on fire, Granlund will either become a key cog in taking this team to the playoffs or at worst be a great trade deadline asset with his expiring, cost-effective contract. It’s still early and the sample size remains small, but the early results are very encouraging.

Juuse Saros will likely start in goal barring something catastrophic, so hopefully the young tendy will redeem himself after a rough outing against the Stars. Saros let in a particularly bad goal that ended up being crucial to the outcome of the game; if this dribbler doesn’t sneak through, Nashville might end up tying it late and taking the game to overtime.

I expect the Finnish netminder to bounce back against a weak Blackhawks team, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Saros has another rough night either. With a career mired in inconsistency it’s going to interesting to see how he handles being the starter after having a rough game.

The Blackhawks

This team is awful. So awful that at points they made the Predators look like a competent offensive team, which is a powerful indictment of their defense and coaching. Malcolm Subban was a bright spot last night, but the play of the top guys in the lineup largely disappointed me; Kane was largely held in check, Kubalik failed to make any real impact at even strength, and Strome aside from his goal was just kinda “meh.” For a shallow team like this one to lose a player like Alex DeBrincat just means that Nashville should be crushing them on the scoreboard and in underlying numbers. We saw the latter yesterday, so hopefully today provides a bit of both.

Again, the Blackhawks have an avenue to win this game: special teams play. The Chicago power play is solid even without DeBrincat and it worked with lethal effectiveness in the previous game; the key to Nashville smoking this team is discipline and dominance at even strength. If Chicago gets more than four power play chances, everything is going sideways. The player to watch here is Dominik Kubalik; if he gets going and can make something happen away from the man advantage, this team will have a legitimate shot to beat the Preds.

Three Big Things

  1. Playing well in the high-danger areas is going to be crucial in this game. Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning continue to be inconsistent on the bottom pair, with Benning in particular showing flashes of the player he was in Edmonton followed by boneheaded decisions and miscues. If that pair can clean things up and avoid letting the Blackhawks drive the net, Nashville will have a significantly easier game.
  2. The power play needs a massive shakeup, and if we don’t see one soon it’s time to question Dan Lambert. The deployment choices of the 1-3-1 system have been iffy at best over the past half-decade that the Predators have been using it, and the decision-making and coaching surrounding the group concerning the order of operations (point shots versus cross-crease passing, low-to-high versus high-to-low) is completely out of whack. I’ll be paying keen attention to the power play in hopes of seeing a sign that the coaching staff thinks something is wrong.
  3. Coming out of the gate hot would do this team a lot of good. Nashville has an odd refusal to score the first goal in games and it’s getting on everybody’s nerves, so hopefully getting an easier goalie to go up against in one of Colin Delia or Kevin Lankinen will ease the strain of this trend.

Gameday Tunes

I’m on a huge Sturgill Simpson kick lately, and honestly, who can blame me? In a sea of...iffy country music this decade, his blend of the old and the innovative is unique and a cut above the rest. Hope y’all like him as much as I do.

Enjoy and, as always, go Preds.