Mar 23, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) skates with the puck as Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) chases during the third period at the United Center. The Predators won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Just like earlier this month, first place in the Central Division is on the line as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators wrap-up their season series, tonight in Chicago.
So far, in the first 3 games of the 4 game season series between the Hawks and Predators, both teams have evenly split the series, to matching 1-1-1 records. It’s unfortunate that these teams, which both figure to be in the hunt for the Central crow, will not face each other again this season. That just makes tonight’s game all the more important. You can watch tonight’s game on CSN-Chicago, and you can listen to it on WGN 720 AM.
Here’s a statistical breakdown of the Hawks and Predators.
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Offensively, the Hawks are an elite team, but they will be facing the league’s 2nd strongest defensive team, which should be very interesting. Defensively, the Hawks are the best in the league(also the only team defensively superior to the Preds) and will be up against Nashville’s league-average offensive attack.
On the Power Play, the Hawks are improving and are now an overall average team on the man-advantage, this season. The Hawks’ man-advantage unit will be facing the Preds’ below-average Penalty Kill. For the Hawks, on the Penalty Kill, they are historically good thus far and at the top of the league. They will be tasked with shutting down the Preds’ overall lackluster, but improving Power Play.
In the faceoff circle, the Hawks have been one of the better teams in the league and will be trying to win the puck against Nashville’s near-the-bottom of the league faceoff team. In terms of positive puck-possession, the Hawks are tops in the league as evidenced by their Corsi For Percentage. Interestingly, despite dismal success in the faceoff dot, Nashville is one of the better teams, in terms of positive puck-possession, as they have the 7th best CF% in the NHL. Even though they don’t typically start play with the puck, they more often than not find a way to take it, limit opponents chances and create their own.
The Hawks have a solid advantage in this one, but the Predators have enough going for them that this will be an interesting game. The numbers show why Nashville has been successful, this year, but beating the Blackhawks is going to be a tall order, as long as the Hawks are on top of their game.
The Predators are currently 23-9-2 which is good for 48 points and 2nd place in the Central. However, even though Nashville is in 2nd place, they are only 2 points behind the Blackhawks and also have 2 games in-hand on the Hawks, so the premature tie-breaker would go to the Preds. Likely the most feared Predator, defenseman Shea Weber and his booming slapshot have a 5-game streak with at least an assist. Early season Calder Trophy favorite, Filip Forsberg, leads Nashville in points with 34 in as many games. Colin Wilson has scored 4 goals in his last 3 games.
In net for the Predators will be Pekka Rinne. Rinne has been absolutely stellar this season with a .935 Save Percentage in 35 games played, this season.
The Hawks are, as mentioned earlier, sitting in 1st place in the Central. They have a 24-10-2 record, which is good for 50 points on the season. It’s crazy to think that, considering how hot the Hawks have been since the circus trip, that the Predators are only 2 points behind, and they even hold a higher point percentage than the Hawks. Brad Richards will make his return to the lineup tonight. He will be slotted in between the red-hot Patrick Kane and the resurgent Kris Versteeg. Hopefully this line can pick up where it left off, as it was a huge catalyst in the Hawks dominance, over the past 2 months. Brent Seabrook is arguably having the best season of his career as he is on pace to easily surpass career-high of 9 goals in a season.
In net for the Hawks will be Corey Crawford. Crawford appears to be up to speed after missing a few weeks with an injury. Crawford has a very good .923 Save Percentage in 21 games played this season.
Since this is the last time these teams play each other this season, this game is of immediate importance. In April, f the Central comes down to a one point difference between the Hawks and Preds, you can look back on tonight’s late-December game as the decider.