Albeit an over-used phrase for the Nashville faithful, the Blackhawks were truly down and out much like their goaltender Corey Crawford on Kostitsyn’s goal last Saturday. The Blackhawks were also down the services of their captain, Jonathan Toews, after the first period of Saturday’s game due to an upper body injury.
The Predators go into the Madhouse on Madison with a decisive win over the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 4-1 and obtaining the elusive Goo-Goo Goal at the 19:31 mark of the second period.
The Blackhawks haven’t played since their match with the Predators so the rest may prove to be useful for Chicago along with the seething memory of the 5-2 loss at Bridgestone.
Can the Blackhawks without the help of their number one goal scorer nab the all important two points in the Central, or will Nashville continue it’s great play and solid goaltending in an effort to get even with Chicago in the standings?
This Year’s Series: 1-0-1 Home (1-0-0) Away (0-0-1)
Looking at the Blackhawks: The Blackhawks have been a staple atop the conference leader boards for most of the season due in large part to their pesky offense and above-average defense. Their goaltenders have been average at best but with a lethal offense studded with raw goal scoring talent the attention has not been between the pipes.
The Central Division is the toughest division in the NHL marked by four teams with over 60 points (only 9 teams in the NHL have more than 60 points BTW). Chicago has been trading positions with Detroit and St. Louis for the top three spots for division leaders and with Nashville making a push, it’ll be ever more interesting to see who might win the Central this season.
Looking at the Predators: The Predators boast one of the quietest 11 goal scorers in the league in Matt Halischuk. Scoring his 11th goal against the Blue Jackets last night, Matt Halischuk has become one of the top goal scorers for Nashville from the fourth line. This has made coach Barry Trotz’ job that much harder since Brandon Yip was acquired through waivers as to where Yip might fit in.
Pekka Rinne week after week has been a wall and the source of frustration for opponents since December. On numerous occasions last night, Columbus Blue Jacket players after firing what should have been a goal into the glove hand of Rinne viewed the Megatron in disbelief.
For the Blackhawks to win: Feed off the Madhouse…use the crowd and the ravenous fans to fuel an early jump against the Predators. Without Toews, the forwards of Chicago will need to be firing the rubber at all times. Look for Kane and Stalberg to start the frenzy with pin-point shooting and Hossa gliding past defenders for the odd-man rush.
The goaltending of Chicago whether it’s Crawford or Emery has to get it done. Crawford was figured out by Nashville in the second period of their last meeting and the Predators have had Ray Emery’s number since last year’s playoff series against the Ducks. If Crawford starts it’s all about rebound control, if Emery starts he’ll need to be able to recover faster than in previous meetings.
For the Predators to win: Keep the back door closed. Too many times Hossa was able to cherry-pick behind the defense and get two break-aways for scores. This cannot happen in Chicago since the crowd and the noise will be deafening along with the haunting chords of “Chelsea Dagger” stabbing any momentum the Predators can muster.
Rolling four lines is key and Trotz needs to keep the shifts short after playing last night. It has been proven throughout the year that the Predators have weapons on every line that can score. The first two lines obviously have the talent but the surprising offensive output from Tootoo, Bourque, Halischuk, Smith and Spaling have been the difference in the close games Nashville likes to play.
Having Suter back in the lineup is a huge help for the young blueline and Kevin Klein is secretly having one of the best years of his career defense-wise. If the defense and Pekka Rinne can continue this trend, look for Nashville to take the crowd out with a slow-paced game and grind out two points in the Windy City.
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Stay HardCore, friends