Nashville Predators @ Chicago Blackhawks Preview: Brave New World

The Predators will look to get the first win of the Hynes era under their belts tonight.

After a disappointing but unsurprising first outing of the post-Laviolette era against the Boston Bruins, the Nashville Predators look to do better against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. John Hynes wasn’t able to make it to practice before the game against Boston, but has now had a little more time with his new team.

Hopefully things will go better tonight as the Preds take on the only team in the Central with fewer standings points than they have.

The Nashville Predators

With Laviolette and his cycle offense out, and Hynes and his high-risk offense in—that’s high-risk to both the opponents’ goalies and the Preds’ chances—there’s the possibility that we might see a lot of changes. Those will probably creep in gradually, though; Micah Blake McCurdy has found that it generally takes a couple of weeks for coaching changes to start showing up in team play.

In Tuesday’s press conference, David Poile repeatedly implied that he’d seen no real problem with Laviolette or McCarthy’s coaching, but felt the players’ underperformance left him with no choice but to make the staff change. The players’ statements to the media at Tuesday’s practice, where they all accepted responsibility for the coaching change, made it pretty clear that that’s the line inside the room.

It can’t be denied that the Predators have struggled to respond to adversity ever since adversity snatched a Stanley Cup out of their hands on home ice. There’s a lot of debate about the rest of it—it seems pretty obvious to me, especially after the Kyle Turris debacle, that an inflexible and bad system was at least partly to blame, but I know a lot of people are claiming the problem was the players failing to execute a good system (what good system?)—but the mental aspect, at least, isn’t really up for debate. Getting a new head coach could change that up some.

Getting some goaltending would also change that up some. Juuse Saros’s performance remains cause for concern, while Pekka Rinne has had some struggles of his own. They’re both playing unusually badly, and either of them rebounding would be fantastic news for the team—and for the new coach.

The Chicago Blackhawks

Injuries have hit the Blackhawks hard.

Brandon Saad is out with an ankle injury; Dylan Strome left Tuesday’s game also with an ankle injury and may not be available; Andrew Shaw is dealing with yet another concussion; defender Calvin de Haan is out long-term, further weakening an already-thin defense corps. Brent Seabrook is also on LTIR after one surgery and with more upcoming, but one suspects that Stan Bowman is going to do his best to keep Seabrook there until his monstrous contract runs out.

Saad, Dominik Kubalik, and Patrick Kane are the only Blackhawks players with more than ten goals; Kane has 24, while Kubalik is next on the team with 13. Kane also totals 55 points, leading Jonathan Toews’s 31 and Strome and Alex DeBrincat’s 30 each by [checks calculator] a lot. Erik Gustafsson leads defenders in points with 18.

Top-heavy doesn’t even begin to describe this Blackhawks team; these six players are their big guns. This isn’t like the Predators struggling to get production out of their top-six forwards but having people like Nick Bonino and Calle Järnkrok tearing up the ice. The Blackhawks are already getting production from their best players, and it’s still not a lot, and it’s still not enough.

Saad and defender Connor Murphy are the only players who are even breaking even in terms of shot danger. The team as a whole is bad defensively and mediocre offensively. Free-agency signing Robin Lehner has been excellent in net, with a sv% of .922 on the season that’s allowed him to pull out some wins without much support; Corey Crawford has had a harder time.

This is about the same Blackhawks team we saw last year. They make up for an apathetic power play with a strong penalty kill, their defense and their depth are ruins, and if the Predators don’t take them seriously they still have the ability to make us hear “Chelsea Dagger” a lot more than we want to.

For the record, I’d rather not hear it at all.

Reasons to Watch:

  • I’m curious about what changes Hynes might start making, especially after what looked like some minor and effective in-game adjustments on Tuesday
  • Yeah, that’s about all I’ve got. There are a couple of players on the Hawks’ roster I have soft spots for and they’re, uh, injured, so I’m just going to spend the entire game trying to summon really tiny meteorites. Still, new head coach for the Preds, against an opponent they really dislike! Start the Hynes era off in style./

How to Watch:

The game starts at 7:30 PM Central, and will air on NBCSN and FS-TN. You can also listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game, if you’d rather not deal with NBCSN.

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