The Nashville Predators look to start the new year off right today by rebounding after a pair of tough losses. This afternoon’s opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, have had a rough season, with an 11-15-4 record to date, and haven’t played since December 18th. Whether they’ll be rusty or rested remains to be seen.
The Preds are still missing Roman Josi, Colton Sissons, and Tommy Novak to COVID-19 protocol, but hopefully the remaining members of the team can pick up the slack. Juuse Saros will presumably get the start, and it would be great for the top line to start contributing meaningfully on the scoresheet again.
A few months ago this would have been a great matchup to get them going again, but the Hawks have improved drastically under new head coach Derek King—10 of their 11 wins have come since the coaching change, and that’s been reflected in their on-ice play as well. Sadly, the team that just lay down on the ice and gave up when they weren’t winning is more or less gone, with the Hawks now playing basically competent defense though still struggling offensively. They’ve also had better shooting and goaltending luck (probably the real reason Jeremy Colliton was removed from the coaching job).
Backup Kevin Lankinen has been placed in COVID-19 protocol, but Marc-Andre Fleury’s season has improved with the team’s. He now sports a .913 sv% on the season and has done a pretty solid job meeting expectations.
Patrick Kane leads the team in points with 25, while Alex DeBrincat—the goals leader with 17—and Seth Jones—the assists leader with 20—are tied right behind him with 23 points each. Nobody other than DeBrincat has hit double digits in goals, with 23-year-old sophomore Brandon Hagel next behind him with eight, and Kane and Jonathan Toews are the only players other than Jones to have double digits in assists.
The Hawks are still struggling on special teams, with a power play that generates shots but struggles to convert on them and an average penalty kill that has suffered thanks to goaltending. They have, however, been playing fairly disciplined hockey, allowing their goalies not to have to help kill penalties that often—a good solution when you’re struggling on special teams, especially since taking fewer penalties also helps you draw fewer penalties.
This should be a winnable game for the Preds even with Josi, Sissons, and Novak still missing, but they’ll have to put in the work to make it happen.
How to Watch:
The game starts in two hours, at 1 PM Central, and will air on Bally Sports South and 102.5 The Game.