The Blackhawks are in turmoil both on and off the ice, with a 1-9-2 record so far this season, leadership embroiled in the fallout of a sexual assault scandal from 2010, and the firing yesterday of head coach Jeremy Colliton. The Blackhawks named Derek King interim head coach, and he took the helm for the first time tonight. Marc-Andre Fleury took the night off, and Kevin Lankinen took his place in net for Chicago.
The Nashville Predators entered the United Center with 4 of 6 points earned on a Western Canada road trip last week. After a rocky start of their own this season, Nashville had won 5 of their last 6 games. The Preds have been playing more consistent hockey, improving special teams, and building line chemistry. The lineup tonight was modified by injuries—Filip Forsberg and Mark Borowiecki were out with upper-body injuries and defender Philippe Myers stepped in for Ben Harpur on the third defensive pairing. Juuse Saros started in net.
Could the Predators withstand the push of a desperate Blackhawks team? Let’s find out.
Luke Kunin made the Predators’ intentions clear right off the bat with a thunderous check on Kirby Dach during early offensive zone time. The Blackhawks returned the sentiment with “hockey hugs” for both Colton Sissons and Yakov Trenin in the first five minutes of the period.
Juuse Saros defended the net well after a Nashville defensive turnover and a quick shot opportunity from Jonathan Toews.
The first break in five-on-five play came as Matt Duchene took a seat in the sin bin on a hooking charge at 9:47. The Predators’ strong performance on the penalty kill in Vancouver was tested as the Blackhawks set up in the offensive zone. Despite extended time on defense, both kill units shut down opportunities and the two minutes expired with no harm done.
The best chance for the Blackhawks came on a breakaway by Dominik Kobelik, but Juuse Saros pinned the puck under his pads. Despite a back and forth period, neither team found the back of the net, the Predators seemed to play down to their opponent’s abilities, and the period ended 0-0.
Puck dropped to start period two with the Predators needing to elevate their game and get back to the style of play that brought them some success in western Canada. A good chance presented itself at 2:09 with a high stick penalty by Kirby Dach, and the Predators had a chance to play with the man advantage.
Nashville struggled to establish possession in the offensive zone, and even once the power play got set up with the first unit, there was no significant threat. The second unit didn’t get much chance offensively, and Dach’s two minutes in the time out booth expired with no benefit for the Predators.
The Predators’ somewhat lackadaisical play finally cost them in the second period. A wonky rebound off a point shot landed to the left of Juuse Saros, and Brandon Hagel got just enough of the puck to send the disk over Saros’s shoulder at 7:15, giving the Blackhawks the first goal of the game.
The wake up call registered with Alexandre Carrier, who navigated around the back of the net and snuck the puck past Lankinen to even the score at 1-1 at 9:05.
Another great opportunity for two youngsters came on an Eeli Tolvanen shot with the follow up by Philip Tomasino, but neither could connect with twine to give the Predators the lead. Another chance presented itself shortly after than with a penalty call on Kirby Dach for high sticking. The Predators’ first unit set up more quickly this time, but didn’t capitalize. The second unit pressured offensively as well, but the two minutes ended with no goals for Nashville.
The Blackhawks came right back offensively once teams returned to five a side and gave the United Center crowd a gasp of hope with a point-blank net front shot by Dach. Juuse Saros—noted net minder/killer of dreams—sat the crowd down in disappointment.
Chicago earned another opportunity for hope as Matt Benning was called for interference at 14:38, and the Predators’ penalty kill was tested again. The Blackhawks weren’t able to capitalize on the man advantage, and Benning came out of the box shame-free.
The period ended with offensive pressure from Chicago but a tied score of 1-1.
Nick Cousins was MIA through much of the second period and did not return to the bench with the team for the final period. Dominik Kubelik started the period off with a shot that was handled without issue by Saros.
The Predators had two great chances on a shot from Colton Sissons and then a centering pass by Dante Fabbro that the netfront crowd sent just wide of Lankinen. Roman Josi committed a silly tripping penalty at 5:55, giving the Blackhawks a chance with a man up.
The penalty kill started with a frantic scramble that ended with Saros way out of the net, but the Preds regrouped and stopped the scoring opportunity. Saros shut down the shots that made it through to net and Josi came out of the penalty box with the only damage done to Predators fans’ nerves.
The pace of the game picked up significantly after that penalty kill but both teams struggled to capitalize on offensive chances. The Predators continued to pressure offensively, repeatedly taking it into the offensive zone, but getting off a high-danger chance didn’t materialize. Pesky defense by the Predators kept the Blackhawks from threatening when they could get into the Preds’ zone. The buzzer sounded with the teams still tied 1-1 and the game headed to overtime.
Three on three hockey began with Johansen, Duchene, and Josi. The Blackhawks ended the overtime on their first possession with a two on one, finally making it past Saros for the quick OT win.
- The Predators have to play to their identity regardless of how their opponent is playing. While this was the last game for this leg of the road trip and the team could have been struggling with fatigue, the Preds needed to continue to play their style of hockey. Not only did they play a slower pace, they also strayed from their physicality. It is easy when a team is fatigued to play down to the level of the opponent. That’s a habit the team needs to break.
- Juuse Saros was a steadying hand in an otherwise shaky game. It would be nice not to need bailed out by the goalie, but in a game where the rest of the team struggled to find a higher level of energy and execution it was reassuring to have #74 in net. Saros tracked the puck well and played calm, cool, and collected without much defensive support. The best player on the ice this game hands down was Juuse Saros, and it is a shame the team lost this game while he was in net.
- This game should never have made it to overtime. While the Blackhawks have a talented roster, the Nashville Predators should have been able to stymie Chicago by sticking to their “identity”. Saros had to singlehandedly keep the team in the game while the remainder of the team fumbled at both ends of the ice. Ryan Johansen was beaten twice on the overtime breakaway, the Herd line and the veterans who have been contributing offensively were largely invisible, and while the Predators walk away with one point, there were no points tonight for style or substance.