Predators 3, Blackhawks 1: Cool Hand Luke

The Predators put the hurt on Chicago tonight, and boy was it fun.

What went right?

Nashville played one of their best games of the entire season, doing exactly what I thought they needed to in order to dominate the Blackhawks. The Preds produced an incredible forechecking effort, frustrated the Hawks in the neutral zone and at the blue line with consistently fluid coverage, and overall had a fantastic effort on defense. Nashville’s previously lethargic and stale offensive philosophy has gotten a jolt lately, a trend that continued with some more creative goals from the slot by Ryan Johansen, Rocco Grimaldi, and Mikael Granlund.

Nashville even kept up with Chicago while playing a bit more run-and-gun hockey in the later parts of the second period, although that style ended up yielding a goal against courtesy of Pius Suter. The most notable stat of the night? The Predators have successfully killed off 22 of their last 23 penalties after that unit’s horrendous start to the season. The special teams have finally found their legs thanks to the confidence added by stable goaltending and Eeli Tolvanen’s work on the power play.

Speaking of Tolvanen, the rookie continued his recent tear by tallying an assist on Johansen’s goal, marking his point streak at four. He was the best of the rookies on the ice tonight, clearly outstripping the Pius Suter/Philipp Kurashev tandem as well as Kevin Lankinen (who also played admirably). The young Finn isn’t just shooting the puck at random; he’s making smart decisions that provide us all an inkling of just how good he might be with a few extra pounds and some more time in the NHL.

Lastly, Juuse Saros made some great stops again to keep this game looking like the one-sided performance that it ultimately was. It’s wild how he always turns it on when the season hits the halfway point or so.

What could have been better?

The Preds let up on the gas after Granlund’s goal in the third and almost gave the game away at a few points. The forecheck slowed down and the general intensity decreased, letting Chicago back into the game to a degree. Saros also had a few shots that he had trouble handling early on, but against one of the best teams in the league at creating goals off of rebounds, that was to be expected.

Three Big Things:

  1. This game was indicative of something bigger than a mere PDO binge. The Predators asserted themselves as one of the the two best teams in position to take the 4th seed in the Central. I’d really only say that the Dallas Stars have the talent/coaching mix to overcome Nashville for that spot, and given their recent slump that’s less and less of a problem.
  2. The youth movement has been the topic of late, but Luke Kunin looked fantastic in his return and that shouldn’t be forgotten. The former Wild winger has been absent for a while, but he was still one of the best offensive players on the team prior to getting hurt. In an energized system that’s attacking the slot and creating from behind the net with gusto, Kunin fits right in. He posted two assists tonight and was crucial in getting the win.
  3. Speaking of that offensive change, the Predators crushed the Hawks in high danger chances and clearly took shots from closer to the net than a team highly renowned for their finishing abilities. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it’s worth keeping in mind as players start to come back to the roster. This year’s seeming lack of change in offensive philosophy might have had more to do with Nashville defaulting to “feed the puck to Josi/Ellis” than we all initially thought.

Postgame Tunes

It’s time for a classic banger. The Preds beat Chicago, and that’s always a cause for celebration.

Let me know if you like the new recap format in the comments below. Good night, good hockey, and as always, go Preds.